The Department’s consultation on aligning the age for free prescriptions with the state pension age closed on 3 September. The responses to the consultation are being reviewed, and we will outline the next steps in due course.
We know that low incomes are associated with worse healthcare outcomes and also that average prescription use is higher among those in more deprived areas. Will the Minister accept that increasing healthcare costs for those on low incomes will mean that health inequalities will widen, increasing the pressure on low-income families and the NHS this winter?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I reassure her that around 90% of prescription items in the community are provided free of charge. Those who are vulnerable and on low incomes, such as those on universal credit, income support and jobseeker’s allowance, already qualify for free prescriptions. It is really important that those over the threshold can also apply for the prescription prepayment certificate, where all their items will cost just about £2 a week. We are making sure that costs are low for those on low incomes.
Record levels of funding by the Scottish Government for primary care will protect free eye examinations and free prescriptions for people in Scotland and will also enable the abolition of all NHS dentistry charges. Will the Minister follow Scotland’s lead and commit to a similar policy for England?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Although the Scottish Government provide free prescriptions, the money comes out of existing budgets, which means it is taken from elsewhere in the health service. That may be why, at the moment, three health boards in Scotland need the armed forces’ support to deal with their winter crisis.