The Government continued its debate over whether the free prescription age in England should be increased to align with the state pension age earlier this month. At present, those over 60 are exempt from paying the £9.35 NHS prescriptions charge, and a new Express.co.uk poll has shown three-quarters of readers are against it being hiked to 66.
A petition, with over 46,000 signatures, demanding the Government continues to give free NHS prescriptions to the over 60s was debated by MPs on Monday, March 6. Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Neil O’Brien told the House of Commons: “The petition calls on the Government to protect free NHS prescriptions for all over-60s. We value our older members of society, and we recognise their social care and health needs.”
He said no decision had been made yet to bring the proposals forward and that the Government wants to ensure everyone in England can afford their prescriptions, “especially” those most affected by the cost of living crisis.
Pensioners campaign group Silver Voices has called for Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to scrap the proposals at his Spring Budget on Wednesday, March 15. The group’s, director Dennis Reed, said last week: “Following on from the scrapping of free TV licences for the over 75s, we always knew that this benefit would also be under threat at some stage.
“Such a move would be economic madness, as far greater costs would be incurred for acute NHS services from older people being unable to afford necessary drugs to maintain their conditions. It is also another example of how English patients are discriminated against in comparison to the rest of the UK. We call on the Chancellor to confirm, in his Budget Speech next week, that this proposal has been scrapped.”
READ MORE: Pensioner fury as Hunt considers axing free prescriptions for over-60s
In a poll that ran from 3pm on Wednesday, March 8, to 2.30pm on Monday, March 13, Express.co.uk asked readers: “Should the free prescription age be increased to state pension age?”
A total of 1,107 readers responded, with the vast majority, 75 percent (834 people), answering “no” the free prescription age be increased.
In contrast, 24 percent (261 people) sid “yes” it should rise to state pension age, and a further one percent (12 people) said they did not know either way.
In the comments left below the accompanying article, and on another Express.co.uk article, readers debated changes to the free prescription age.
Some readers argued that increasing the prescription age would negatively affect England’s older population, like username Backfire, who said: “Many older people won’t be able to afford their medication.”
Username Jacko060, meanwhile, said: “Well, the current price of £9.35 per medicine is way, way too high if Hunt is thinking about such a move.”
Others commented the prescription charges should be consistent across the UK. At present, residents in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland benefit from free prescriptions.
Username Liverpoolbandb said: “Both Wales and Scotland have free prescriptions. England should do the same. If England does not follow Wales and Scotland, then those living in England may find their health suffers.”
Another, username massum, wrote: “If Hunt wants to raise the age he must do away with free prescriptions for the three other sections of the UK.”
Username mycrest suggested: “If the Chancellor wants to save money for the NHS then instead of increasing the age for free prescriptions the NHS should take off the drugs that are readily available over the counter at far less cost than that charged to NHS.”
And username In the bag remarked: “Free for everyone, or everyone pays. Keep it simple, and stop subsidising certain groups.”
Other readers commented that free prescriptions should not be available to those below the state pension age. Username Williamneilson said: “All free prescriptions before official retirement age should be abolished throughout the UK, people who are economically active should contribute.”
And username McFoggy said: “In general, surely free prescription age should be the same as retirement age. Except of course for those of all ages who have life-threatening illnesses which require constant medication.”
Similarly, username Basaria added: “Being able to get free prescriptions at an age lower than the retirement age, is basically wrong, unless you are unable to work due to long-term, serious health problems.”
While username johndan commented: “It’s not free it’s got to be paid for by the taxpayers nothing is free.”
NHS prescription charges in England are set to rise by three percent from April 1, meaning the standard charge will increase by 30 pence to £9.65, the Government confirmed last week.