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Warning over scrapping free prescriptions for over-60s

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Written by: Emma Lunn
08/10/2021
Age UK says that England’s army of unpaid carers will be severely impacted if the government’s plan to raise the qualifying age for free prescriptions goes ahead.

People aged 60 and over can currently get their prescriptions for free on the NHS in England. But the government is consulting on whether this age should increase to be aligned with the state pension age, which is currently 66 and expected to rise in the future.

Age UK’s Behind the Headlines report argues that scrapping free prescriptions for most over-60s seriously risks widening health inequalities, despite repeated promises by the government to narrow them.

It warns that if the proposed changes go ahead, 2.4 million people aged 60 to 65 will be forced to start paying for their prescriptions, with thousands at risk of forgoing their medication because they can’t afford the extra cost. It says this will have the knock-on effect of increasing hospital admissions.

Age UK warns that some of the biggest casualties of this proposed change will be older carers. Almost one in four people aged 60 to 65 are carers – about 860,000 people – fewer than one in 10 of whom receive any financial help at all through the Carer’s Allowance.

Many of the 56% of carers in this age group who are not in paid employment will have given up work to care for a loved one. But unless they are exempt, they will have to find the money to pay for their prescriptions on what for many will be an already very limited income.

Age UK says pressing ahead with these proposals would be a kick in the teeth for millions of poorly older people, many of whom are also unpaid carers. It says the move would penalise those in need of multiple medicines to manage serious long term health conditions such as heart disease and hypertension.

Through its Bitter Pill to Swallow campaign, Age UK argues that the proposal to scrap free prescriptions for 60 to 65-years-olds is extremely ill-judged, because the money the government will save will almost certainly be outweighed by the additional costs to the NHS if people fail to take their medication because they can’t afford it and become ill.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, said: “Earlier this week the secretary of state for health and social care, Sajid Javid MP, called on families to do more to help their loved ones, seemingly unaware that his own department is considering a policy change which, if implemented, will hit many thousands of brilliant carers in their early and mid-sixties really hard. It’s a juxtaposition that makes no sense at all and a real kick in the teeth for older carers.

“Mr Javid is new to the job so may not yet realise that a massive one in four of all 60 to 65-year-olds is a carer, often for an ageing parent, sometimes for a partner or a sick or disabled adult child. The government cannot have it both ways: if it is serious about valuing carers – people who sacrifice so much and who save the country billions a year as a result – it should shelve the idea of making any 60 to 65-year-old who is not exempt pay for their prescriptions, after many years of them being free.

“There is ample evidence showing that older carers often struggle with their own health problems, so making them start paying for their medication simply risks them becoming even less fit and well.”

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