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Changes to prescription charge exemptions

In the Autumn of 2021, the Westminster government published proposals to align the upper age for NHS prescription charges with the state pension age meaning that people aged from 60 to 65 may no longer receive free prescriptions.

Fri 18th February 2022 The PDA

The consultation ran from 1 July to 3 September 2021 and the PDA wrote a robust response, outlining how the proposals fail to consider the real impact it would have on the most vulnerable members of society.

The PDA is a member of the Prescription Charges Coalition (PCC), chaired by Parkinson’s UK. The coalition is an alliance of over 50 health charities and professional health bodies campaigning for all people with long-term health conditions in England to be exempt from prescription charges, like their counterparts in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

If the prescription cost becomes a barrier to accessing prescription medicines, the poorest most vulnerable members of society will be faced with the hard choice of having to decide which medication/s to get and which they could ‘go without’. They may also try to ration items such as inhalers, rather than taking them as prescribed.

Considering the current cost of living concerns due to rising fuel bills etc, the changes proposed around prescription charges for those in the 60-to-65-year age group could potentially have far greater economic consequences than not taking forward the proposals. Poorly managed long-term health conditions can result in more frequent visits to the GP or avoidable hospital admissions.

The PDA has started to receive reports from members about concerned patients asking what the latest situation is with regards to this proposal and the PDA will be monitoring this closely. So far the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has not yet come to a decision on the proposals but there is speculation any changes could be implemented from April 2022. It is, however, expected that payment exemptions would continue for people on low incomes or with certain conditions, while patients who require multiple regular medications could save money by purchasing a prescription prepayment certificate.

The PDA encourages all members to voice any concerns they may have to their local MP and also refer worried patients to do the same. This can be done by using the resources in the Take Action section of the Prescription Charges Coalition website.

Unfortunately, pharmacists may well be seen as the instigators of this proposal. It will be pharmacists who will counsel patients on the need to take essential medicines and ask patients to pay the associated prescription charge, even though this doesn’t tell the proper story.

Putting pharmacists and their teams at the forefront of this change in policy threatens to damage the important relationship between local populations and their pharmacy teams. Many pharmacists are already suffering low morale due to confrontations with frustrated patients who may have been unable to get in to see their GP, struggled to get access to lateral flow tests, and who may have had to wait longer for prescriptions due to staff sickness and isolations.

The PDA will provide updates on any further developments in this area as they come in.

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