‘Won’t be able to continue’: Free NHS prescription cut to hurt unpaid carers

State pension: Expert discusses when payments are made

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Earlier this month, Age UK published its ‘Behind the Headlines’ report which outlined why scrapping free prescriptions for most over-60s would seriously exacerbate existing health inequalities. Under current Government proposals, millions of people aged between 60 to state pension age in England will have to start paying for their prescriptions from the NHS. Age UK, alongside other charities, are sounding the alarm that this plan would see thousands of people missing out on their regular medication due to being unable to afford the extra cost.

Specifically, the charity is highlighting the impact of unpaid carers, with many being in the affected age demographic due to caring for their significant other.

Some 860,000 people across the UK are unpaid carers between the ages of 60 to 65, according to Age UK.

Less than one in ten of these Britons do not receive additional support from benefit schemes, such as Carer’s Allowance.

The reason many people in this age demographic will have to start paying for their NHS prescriptions is because eligibility for this “freebie” benefit is now linked to the state pension – something which is currently rising.

Once someone turns the current state pension age of 66 and becomes eligible for state pension payments, they will be able to start receiving free prescriptions once again.

Currently, NHS prescriptions are free for everyone in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with England being the outlier.

Addressing this issue, James O’Brian, CEO of Chemist4U, commented on why he thinks scrapping free prescriptions is short sighted move by the Government.

Mr O’Brian said: “Unpaid carers have played a fundamental role in keeping their loved ones safe for years, especially during the pandemic.

“To remove free NHS prescriptions away for an estimated 2.4 million people aged between 60-65 including pensioners and unpaid carers is taking away a very necessary lifeline away from those who need it the most.”

“The impact could be devastating. We may see carers and pensioners giving up vital medication because they can’t afford these proposed costs.”

Speaking to Age UK, one woman said: “As an unpaid carer whose only source of income is Carer’s Allowance, I need free prescriptions.

“I won’t be able to afford my prescriptions if I have to pay for them, meaning my own health will deteriorate and I won’t be able to continue with my caring role.”

Another named Debbie told the charity: “I’ve had to take an early retirement on a reduced pension to care for my husband who has dementia.

“Money is tight – It feels discriminatory as the more medical conditions you have, the harder you’ll be hit.”

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director for Age UK, outlined the importance of the Government reversing its decision to avoid doing further harm.

Ms Abrahams explained: “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.

“When a carer’s health breaks down and they are unable to continue to care then this is not only bad news for them and their loved one, it piles extra pressure on our beleaguered health and care system too.

“So why is the Department of Health and Social Care considering adopting a policy that makes carer breakdown more likely, and at a time when we are not yet out of the woods of the pandemic?

“The adverse impact on older carers of this policy proposal adds to our sense that it has not been properly thought through.

“One senior doctor told me it was a ‘ridiculous idea’, because it is so likely to be self-defeating.

“The money the NHS saves from making more people buy their medication is almost certain to be outweighed by the costs of treating health conditions that worsen because some 60-65 year olds adhere less rigorously to their prescribed treatment regimes.”

Anyone concerned about being unable to pay for their NHS prescriptions going forward should contact Age UK for support.

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