MPs yesterday debated Government proposals in England to raise the qualifying age for free prescriptions from 60 to over 65 years old, following a consultation in 2021, warning about the potential impact on health outcomes amid a cost-of-living crisis.
A number of MPs noted a recent RPS survey which shows that pharmacists have reported an increase in patients not collecting their medication or asking which medicines on their prescription they can 'do without' due to affordability issues.
Marion Fellows MP described this as “appalling in this day and age”, and added, “It leads to more hospital admissions and more expensive care being required in the longer term. It defies common sense to allow that to continue.” She added, “The three devolved Governments have taken a preventive approach to mitigate poorer health outcomes by providing free access to medicines for those who need them.”
Chair of the Pharmacy APPG Taiwo Owatemi MP said, “I have seen at first hand the difference that free access to medication makes to those over the age of 60. For years, I have treated patients whom the prescription proposals will make worse off. I know just how anxious they are at the prospect of having to fork out another monthly expense that they simply cannot afford.”
Shadow Health Minister Andrew Gwynne MP said that the Government’s Impact Assessment for the proposed change notes that “some people towards the lower end of the income distribution may struggle to afford all their prescriptions”, which can result in “future health problems for the individual and a subsequent cost to the NHS.”
Tonia Antoniazzi MP, who led the debate, also highlighted the work of the Prescription Charges Coalition as well as research by York Health Economics Consortium which showed that ending prescription charges for long-term conditions could save money and reduce pressure on the NHS.
The Health Minster noted that “no decision has been made yet to bring proposals forward.”
Chair of the RPS in England Thorrun Govind said:
“MPs from across political parties have warned that people should not have to make choices about their health based on the ability to pay. Nobody should face a financial barrier to accessing the medicines they need.
“Reducing access to medicines leads to poorer health, time off work and can result in admissions to hospital, the cost of which must be set against any income gained from prescription charges.
“Prescription charges are an unfair tax on health for people in England and should be abolished. It is a worry for patients, a distraction for health professionals and drives inequality across the UK.”
The cost-of-living impacts access to prescription medicines says RPS
Read the debate
Aligning the upper age for NHS prescription charge exemptions with the State Pension age (2021)
NHS could save millions by scrapping prescription charges for people with long-term conditions (2018)