Over 60s could soon lose their entitlement to receive free prescriptions on the National Health Service (NHS) amid plans to alter the current care system.
The Government has undertaken a careful consultation into aligning the 'freebie' benefit with the state pension age, which currently sits at 66.
If changes are successfully made, this means that over 60s will have to wait longer to access financial support for their medicine, unless they qualify in another way.
As part of the proposed changes, the Government consultation proposed a number of different rollout plans for the state pension rule change, which include raising the qualifying age for free prescriptions to 66 for everyone immediately.
The alternative option would be to have a 'period of reflection' to allow those in their 60s to continue accessing prescriptions for free.
In its consultation, the Conservative Government highlighted the first option could lead to mass 'confusion' among those who could be hit with unfair penalty notices - while the second may allow the public to familiarise themselves with the change.
Experts in the field have urged the Government to explore these avenues.
Dr Jennifer Burns, who is the president of the British Geriatrics Society, believes that such a policy shift may affect pensioners' health detrimentally.
She said: "We are dismayed to hear that the Government is considering increasing the age at which people in England become eligible for free prescriptions.
“It is essential that older people with multiple long-term conditions are able to access the medications they need to effectively manage their health.”
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A pharmacist getting a prescription. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, added: “Tens of thousands may require hospital treatment due to rationing what they take, so this really is a bad idea that will hit people who are poorly and on modest incomes hardest of all.
“If the Government goes ahead with its proposal, it is clear that some people will be reluctant to act on symptoms or get a diagnosis, for fear they will be unable to afford long term, symptom relieving or even in some cases lifesaving medication.
“The Government should definitely think again.”
This news comes as the state pension age is set to rise to 67 by 2028, which means that over 60s will have to wait even longer for a benefit that they are currently entitled to.
A Department of Health and Social Care said: “Around 90 per cent 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.
“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.”
Various other demographics other than the over 60s can currently claim free prescriptions on the NHS, and those affected by the potential change may still access them through other means.
Young people under 16, as well as those who are between 16 and 18 and in higher education, can currently access the benefit without paying a penny.
Those who have specific medical conditions, and a valid medical exemption certificate (MedEx) can also access support. Women who are pregnant or who have had a child in the last 12-month period, in receipt of a valid maternity exemption (MatEx) can also claim free prescriptions on the NHS.
As well as this, valid war pensions or Armed Forces Compensation Scheme exemptions allow people the support, but only if it's for their accepted disability.
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