The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has raised serious concerns about the likely increase in the age for free NHS prescriptions from 60 to 66 years.
The Department of Health and Social Care is mulling to bring the age exemption in line with the state pension age. The move would force millions to pay £9.35 per item.
The mooted proposal, which is out for public consultation, could generate an extra £300 million for the NHS by 2026-27.
Prescription charges generated more than £2.8 billion between 2015-16 and 2019-20.
The pharmacy body feels the proposal, if passed by ministers, will further drive health inequalities that have been highlighted by Covid-19.
The newly elected Chair of RPS in England, Thorrun Govind, said that many “will be affected by this tax on the sick at exactly the time at which they may be needing more medicines.”
“It is unacceptable to raise the cost of prescriptions in the current economic situation when many have been disadvantaged by the pandemic,” she said.
The consultation on the proposal acknowledged that people might stop taking their prescribed medicines due to increased cost, building more pressure on general practitioners, hospitals and social care.
Govind seconded this view saying, “Reducing access to medicines leads to worsening health and expensive hospital admissions, the cost of which should be set against any income from prescription charges.”
Currently, patients in England get free prescriptions when they turn 60, which has not changed since 1974 for women and 1995 for men.
“Prescriptions are free for everybody in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We urgently need a review and overhaul of the system in England to ensure it supports people facing long-term and increasing medication costs,” Govind said.
Twitter was abuzz with lots of comments late on Thursday (Jul 1), after Govind posted her views on the social media platform. She tweeted: “Genuinely stunned when I read this. The current system already doesn’t make sense. It goes completely against the principles of healthcare in this country to proceed down this route.”
Genuinely stunned when I read this. The current system already doesn’t make sense. It goes completely against the principles of healthcare in this country to proceed down this route. @rpharms #wearepharmacy. https://t.co/vbpDjZB4KF
— Pharmacist Thorrun MRPharmS (@pharmthorrun) July 1, 2021
Several Twitter users commented on her post condemning the government’s proposal.
Komal George a pharmacy career change Coach, @komal_george, tweeted: “We need scrapping of prescription fees not expanding them! It’s been well established that the cost of administration of the prescription payment hugely outstrips the ‘income’ generated for government. A further erosion of our public health service.”
Chris Armstrong @cjarmstrong2 wrote: “I can’t quite believe they are actually considering this. No prescription charges are payable in Wales and Scotland, yet in England they want even more people to pay! It stinks. They should be abolishing them not increasing the number of patients who have to pay. Disgraceful.”
James Milner @JmilnerPharm wrote: “Stunned at first yes, upon reflection, am I surprised? No! Next it will be “let’s close that gender pay gap by paying everyone less”
Meanwhile, health minister Lord Bethell said: “We are committed to improving patient care and supporting the NHS with the funding it needs to recover from this pandemic.”
“Prescription charges are an important source of income for the NHS, and the costs of providing free prescriptions continues to increase with our ageing population,” he said, adding: “I encourage anyone with views on our proposals to share them through the consultation response form.”