These NHS prescription rule changes could leave millions of people worse off
A possible rule change this April could see millions of people in England charged for prescriptions they currently get for free.
Currently those aged over 60 do not have to pay for medication, but new proposals to raise the qualifying age could change this.
In a potential double blow, prescription charges could also be hiked this spring.
Prescriptions for a majority of adults in England currently costs £9.35 per item - although exemptions are allowed for those who require urgent assistance - but the price is also expected to rise with inflation.
What are the new proposals?
The Government plans to raise the qualifying age for free medical prescriptions from 60 to 66.
This means thousands of people aged 60-65 would have to start paying for their antibiotics, illness treatments and more.
The change is expected to affect 2.4million people, costing them £100 more a year.
The Government announced the plans last year, looking to raise the age to 66 in order to bring them into line with the State Pension Age.
Many in the 60-65 age bracket still remain in employment and can therefore afford the costs, according to the Government.
If the change goes ahead, those in the age bracket may still be able to qualify for free prescriptions if they are on low incomes, qualify for other benefits or obtain a medical exemption.
When are the proposals expected to be brought in?
There has been no indication as of yet when the new plans will come into force.
However, Sarah Coles, Hargreaves Lansdown analyst, told the Daily Express it will likely be brought in on 1 April 2022 which she said “would drag millions of people into having to pay for essential medicines”.
A second option, that is reportedly “preferred” by the Government, is to raise the age to 66 but bring in the change in phases.
Will the current charge for prescriptions increase?
The price of prescriptions has already increased by 26.4% over the last 10 years, with a hike of £1.95 per item, a report by Chemist4U found.
On 1 April last year the price of prescriptions increased by 20p - from £9.15 to £9.35. This was a rise of 2.1% in line with inflation.
The Prescription Charges Coalition at the time condemned the price increase as a “tax on health” and warned the current trajectory could see the charge spike to £10.15 by 2025.
If prescription charges rise with inflation, they are expected to get even more expensive.
Those who have serious conditions can reduce the total cost through purchasing a prescription payment certification (PPC). It costs £108.10 for a year of “free” prescriptions - but this payment could also rise with inflation.
What’s been said?
Ms. Coles warned “2022 is a year of change, but not in a good way” and “most of the financial developments in the pipeline will leave us worse off.”
Laura Cockram, Prescription Charges Coalition chair Laura Cockram, said the Government’s plans to make over 60s pay will have a “dire impact” for “those living with health conditions”.
Age UK calls the plans a "bitter pill to swallow for millions”.
Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, told The Express: “We want the Government to realise this will hit those on lower incomes hardest.”
Ms. Abrahams said in Scotland and Wales NHS prescriptions are free for everyone, and it should be the same for people in England too.
On 3 September the Government’s consultation on the proposed changes closed, and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it will respond “in due course”.