The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and 24 other organisations have signed a letter calling for the retention of free prescriptions for patients aged 60 to 66.
It comes after the government announced people in this age group would no longer be exempt from prescription charges.
The letter, addressed to health secretary Sajid Javid, has been signed by 25 organisations from across Great Britain, including the Royal College of General Practitioners, the British Geriatrics Society and Age UK.
It urges the government to rethink its proposal to raise the qualifying age for free prescriptions in England from 60 to 66.
RPS English Pharmacy Board chair Thorrun Govind said: “It is unacceptable to raise the cost of prescriptions in the current economic situation when many have been disadvantaged by the pandemic. Such proposals will only further drive the health inequalities that have been highlighted by Covid-19.
“RPS would like to see the complete abolishment of prescription charges in England, whatever the age group, as is the case in Scotland and Wales.”
The letter highlighted that the government’s proposal would have a lasting adverse impact on the half of 60-64yr olds with one or more long term conditions.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has estimated annual savings of £198-£257 million for the NHS as a whole, which is a tiny fraction of the NHS £212.1 billion budget for 2020-21, the letter stated.
According to Age UK, each year, tens of thousands of people may require hospital treatment, having cut back on their medication due to no longer being eligible for free prescriptions.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “If the government goes ahead with its proposal, it is clear that some people will be reluctant to act on symptoms or get a diagnosis, for fear they will be unable to afford long term, symptom relieving or even in some cases lifesaving medication. The government should definitely think again.”
Mark Koziol, chairman of Pharmacists’ Defence Association, said: “If the prescription price becomes a barrier to accessing prescription medicines, the poorest most vulnerable members of society will be faced with the hard choice of having to decide which medication to purchase and which one/s they could “go without”. They may also try to ration items such as inhalers, rather than take them as prescribed.
He added that in the long-term the proposal would increase “workload on the NHS as a result of complications arising from poor compliance with their prescribed medications.”