Free NHS prescriptions for over 60s may be axed in April as decision deadline looms | Personal Finance | Finance

In 2021, the Government proposed scrapping free NHS prescriptions for the over 60s, spreading fear among those suffering from multiple chronic conditions who currently get their medication for free.

Its public consultation document ominously says: “Anyone aged 60 and older can get free prescriptions for medicine. We are thinking about changing this.”

The change would mean prescriptions would only be free once people hit state pension age, which is currently 66 but will start rising to 67 in 2026. Today’s pensioners have no need to worry.

For everyone else, having to pay the current £9.35 prescription fee would pile on further misery as prices rocket, worsening the cost of living crisis.

The DWP would like to restore it claiming the move would save the NHS around £300million a year, which it can divert to frontline resources.

Ministers have argued that many people aged from 60 to 65 remain in employment and can therefore afford to cover the cost.

Yet it would be hugely controversial given that prescriptions are free for everybody in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The NHS has set out two options for the change.

Idea 1 sees those aged between 60 and 65 having to pay for the prescriptions as soon as the rules change.

Under Idea 2, those now aged from 60 to 65 would carry on getting free prescriptions, but those aged 59 and younger would pay from age 60.

One of these changes seems inevitable as there is no option in the document for things to stay as they are.

It states that: “When we have chosen which idea to use, we will pick a start date.”

It then adds: “The start date will be when the change to prescription costs will start.”

NHS prescription charges change annually on April 1, so the changes could potentially come into force in less than three months. Millions now face an anxious wait as the Government decides its next step ahead of the deadline.

Age UK director Caroline Abrahams has called the plan a “bitter pill to swallow for millions”, and said there’s a strong public health case to make prescriptions in England free instead, as in the rest of the UK.

Abrahams said ending free prescriptions for the over 60s would be “self-defeating”, as it could deter many from taking essential medication and pile more pressure onto the NHS.

Yet the DWP seems reluctant to come to a decision, stretching out the uncertainty.

Last week, MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis of those living in England who pay regular prescription charges do not realise that they could buy a “season ticket” that helps cap the total cost.

Over a million people overpaid for NHS prescriptions as a result, missing out on average savings of £40 a year in the 12 months to April 2022, according to figures obtained by

Those with serious medical conditions can limit their exposure by paying for something called a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC).

READ MORE: 10 health conditions may qualify for free NHS prescriptions

This costs £30.25 for three months worth of unlimited prescriptions or £108.10 for 12 months, and saves cash if you need more than 11 items in a year.

NHS data shows that of the 1.06million who paid for 12 or more prescriptions in the year to last April bought on average 16 items each, at a total cost of £149.60. The PPC would have saved them £41.50, or around £43million in total.

Lewis called on people to spread the word to friends and family. “My simple rule of thumb is that if someone pays for more than one prescription a month, the PPC is cheaper.”

More than 2.5million bought one last financial year and the more prescriptions you need, the more you save. “Someone getting, say, two prescriptions a month would save over £100 a year,” Lewis said.

Buying before April could make sense, in case prescription and PPC prices rise again.

You can buy a PPC online or by phone on 0300 330 1341, or at many pharmacies by card or direct debit. 

First, see if you qualify for a prescription charges exemption, using the NHS checker tool.

The Department of Health and Social Care notes that around 90 percent of community prescription items in England are free of charge, and people don’t pay if they are on a low income, over 60 years old, or have certain medical conditions.

Yet its decision on charging the over 60s has still not been made public.

“The upper age exemption has not changed since 1995 and that is why we have consulted on restoring the link with the state pension age.

“We are considering the responses carefully and will respond in due course.”

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