Prescriptions are currently free for people aged over 60 in England, however, under plans outlined by Ministers, this would rise to 66.
Organisations, including the Prescriptions Charges Coalition (PCC) and others, are raising concerns that this will have a detrimental impact on people on lower incomes and people with long-term conditions, with many people potentially missing out on vital medication due to cost.
Whilst prescriptions are free for all patients living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, in England, the cost of a single prescription has risen by 30% since 2010 to £9.35. I know that this is a burden on many people, especially those living with long-term conditions, who often must pay around £110 a year on medication, or even more if they do not opt into the NHS pre-payment discount scheme.
The PCC finds that many people are struggling to afford their prescriptions and some people are not collecting their medication because of the cost. Concerns have been raised that the Government’s proposal to align the upper age exemption for prescriptions with the State Pension Age will exacerbate this issue.
Indeed, the Government’s own Impact Assessment finds that people on lower incomes will be most severely affected by this policy, which could result in people skipping medication, lead to future health problems for the individual and higher long-term costs to the NHS.
I am also concerned by the way in which the Government launched its consultation on these proposed changes in July last year, shortly before Parliament went into summer recess. It meant that MPs did not get a proper chance to scrutinise or hold Ministers to account. The consultation closed on 2 September 2021 and Ministers are reviewing responses before setting out the next steps.
At a time when the cost of living continues to rise, the Government must consider what more it can do to support people with these essential costs. No one should be forced to choose between paying for their prescription and risking their lives.
This is why I have signed EDM 406 and will oppose the Government’s plans to align the upper age exemption for NHS prescription charges with the State Pension Age.