Nearly four million people in England who currently qualify for free prescriptions face paying £9.35 per item if the Tories carry out their plan to raise the qualification age from 60 to 66.
The government ‘consultation’ (read marketing exercise) on the change was quietly launched on 1 July and runs to 2 September.
The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) itself admits “the policy would affect some lower income groups more severely”, and that some 264,000 people are “likely to be deterred” from collecting their prescriptions because of the charge. The DHSC describes this as a “small negative impact in health inequalities”.
Raising the age for free prescriptions will badly impact older people’s health. In a 2017 survey of 5,600 people in England with long term medical conditions, the Prescription Charges Coalition found that 33% had not collected a prescription due to cost and 15% sometimes or often skipped or reduced their doses because of cost. This led to poorer health and lost time from work.
While approximately 40% of the population in England currently qualify for free prescriptions (by age, receipt of certain state benefits, or certain medical conditions), many chronic conditions, such as asthma and arthritis, are not included for exemptions. Cancer was only added to the list in 2009.
£576 million was raised through prescription charges in 2018-19. The Tories hope to raise a further £300 million a year from this change.
Prescriptions are already free of charge in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and should be in England too. Trade unions must oppose the Tories’ plans and demand free prescriptions for all, together with the nationalisation and integration into the NHS of the pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies.
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