Plans to end free NHS prescriptions for 60-65 year-olds in England have been scrapped by the Government following a wave of anger from charities and older people, i can reveal.

As recently as last week, ministers were defending the controversial proposal to lift the qualifying age for free prescriptions from 60 to 66 to bring it into line with the State Pension age.

The plan, first proposed in 2021 by Boris Johnson’s government to save £6bn, sparked a huge backlash from charities who warned that older people with long-term conditions such as arthritis, Parkinson’s and bowel disease would be hit hard by the charges.

But following increasing worries among Tory MPs, ministers have now decided to scrap the proposal. A source in the Department for Health and Social Care told i: “We are not going ahead with this idea.”

In the next few weeks, the Department will go public on its decision and will reassure all over-60s that they will continue to get free NHS prescriptions in England.

The move is a victory for campaigners who have long argued that the proposal would amount to a “medicines tax” that would lead poorer people to simply stop buying their medication, causing higher costs to the NHS for treatment over time.

Conservative backbenchers have also feared that the idea was a needless hit to their “grey vote” at a time when the Government is already facing dire poll ratings.

Over-60s have not been charged for prescriptions ever since 1995, when John Major decided to allow men to share the same eligibility as women who were qualifying for a pension at 60.

Yet with the state retirement age now 66 for both sexes, Johnson’s government had intended to save money by aligning the system for pensions and prescriptions.

An e-petition opposing the idea attracted 45,000 signatures and there were a huge 117,000 responses to the public consultation that started in 2021.

The Department for Health and Social Care admitted earlier this year that those numbers “are testament to the strength of feeling within our community” over the planned reform.

Even the DHSC’s own “impact assessment” of the proposal stated: “Those on low incomes who don’t qualify for an exemption based on the receipt of income-related benefits or due to a medical condition may struggle to pay the full cost of prescriptions and therefore may miss or reduce some of their medicine dose, leading to adverse health effects.”

Fresh worries that the Department of Health would push ahead with the move were sparked last week when Health Minister Neil O’Brien told MPs large numbers of over-60s were now economically active or receiving a private pension “and therefore more able to meet the cost of their prescriptions”.

While stressing no decision had been made, O’Brien said the Government was “trying to balance the cost of living pressures with the need for increasing funding for the NHS”.

NHS prescriptions are free for all ages in Scotland and Wales, but they still apply in England. And after a freeze last year, the charges are set to go up this spring to a record high of nearly £10 each. From April, the charge will go up from £9.35 to £9.65 for each medicine or appliance dispensed.

More than 40 organisations and charities that make up the Prescription Charges Coalition have campaigned to exempt from fees people with long-term conditions such as motor neurone disease, Crohn’s disease and other chronic illnesses.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The upper age exemption for prescriptions remains at 60 years old.

“We have taken steps to help people with the cost of NHS prescriptions. Almost 89% of prescription items in England are already provided free of charge and pre-payment certificates can be used to cap costs at just over £2 a week for regular prescriptions.

“The consultation has concluded and its conclusions will be published in due course.”

The DHSC stresses that prescription pre-payment certificates (PPCs) offer value for money for those who have to pay for regular medication. An annual certificate costs £108.10 and can help deliver savings for those who need more than one prescription a month.

Patients with certain medical conditions can apply for a medical exemption certificate that provides exemption from prescription charges, with pharmacies offering specialist advice.

The NHS Low Income Scheme also offers help with help costs for people on low incomes but who don’t receive qualifying benefits for free prescriptions.

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