More than 2.4million people will lose access to free prescriptions if the government goes ahead with plans to raise the benefit in line with the state pension age – and it could come as soon as April this year
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Millions of people could lose access to free NHS prescriptions as early as April, if the government presses ahead with plans to raise the qualifying age with the state pension age.
People over the age of 60 are currently eligible for free medication in England – saving them £9.35 per item purchased, or an average of £100 a year.
An estimated 2.4million make use of this benefit, but the Department of Health wants to raise the age to 66 to tie in with the state pension age.
It is estimated the move could bring in £300million for the NHS by 2027.
A consultation into the proposals closed last year, and if given the go-ahead, Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Sarah Coles predicts it would likely be brought in at the start of April.
One reader, Ms Atkinson, told The Mirror the move would force people to choose between life essentials and healthcare.
She said: “This is about the only benefit left to those of us aged 60 and above in England. There is a decrease in health as you get older even if you keep your weight under control and exercise.
“Nobody should be forced to choose between life essentials and prescriptions. If people stop taking medication for conditions such as high blood pressure the bill to the NHS is far greater if they then suffer a stroke or cardiac arrest.
“Stopping the free prescriptions is the government picking on a vulnerable section of the population and penalising them for living in England.”
The price of prescriptions has already been hiked by 26.4 percent over the last 10 years – an increase of £1.95 per item, a report by Chemist4U found.
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Scotland and Wales currently allow free prescriptions for everyone, and Age UK director Caroline Abrahams says the same should be the case for England.
Those on low incomes just above the benefits line are likely to be worst hit, with thousands forced to ration their medication because they cannot afford the extra cost, Age UK said.
The charity warned it could also lead to people skipping vital medication to avoid the costs of treatment.
Abrahams said: “We want the Government to realise this will hit those on lower incomes hardest.”
The Royal College of GPs and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society are also standing against the changes.
Jan Shortt, National Pensioners Convention general secretary, said: “This will have a massive negative effect on the health of pensioners who lose their free prescriptions.
“Prescription charges are not affordable if you are on low income without financial help of some kind.”
One option reportedly “preferred” by the Government is to raise the qualifying age to 66 but phase in the changes.
A health department spokesman said the age people received free prescriptions in England had not changed since 1974 for women, and 1995 for men.
He added: “We continue to protect the most vulnerable and support is available for those on a low income and on certain benefits.”