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Charging for prescriptions and care – what older people think

Age Sector Platform Chief Executive, Eamonn Donaghy, explains what older people have told the organisation about charging for domiciliary care, prescriptions and non-emergency patient transport, and how Age Sector Platform are using that information to inform the Government.

In December 2017, the Department of Finance published a Budget briefing document that set out a number of scenarios, and suggested methods of generating income. 

Its purpose was to illustrate the choices that will need to be considered by Ministers in reaching agreement on a Budget, and Age Sector Platform provided feedback to the document on behalf of older people across Northern Ireland.

Some of the suggested proposals, contained in the briefing, included:

  • Introducing prescription charges
  • Charging for domiciliary care
  • Changing the criteria for non-emergency patient transport.

During 2014/15, Age Sector Platform collected more than 20,000 signatures in support of the Hands Off campaign, defending the need for universal pensioner benefits, including prescription charges.

This sends a clear message to policy makers - older people should not be penalised for poor health. Older people typically require more medicines than most to maintain a good quality of life and should not be unfairly disadvantaged because of their circumstances.

During January 2018, Age Sector Platform conducted a survey - The Pensioners Parliament Budget Survey - with older people aged 50-plus on some of the Department’s Budget briefing proposals.

It collected 444 responses from older people across Northern Ireland, and revealed that the vast majority of older people still believe they should be exempt from prescription charges - four out of five (79%) agreeing with this position. 

There was uncertainty from respondents about whether prescription charges should be introduced at all (47% agreed, 47% disagreed and 6% were unsure).

The Pensioners Parliament Budget Survey in January 2018 revealed that three in five (59%) did not agree with people in receipt of domiciliary care having to pay towards its cost. 

The Briefing on Northern Ireland Budgetary Outlook 2018-20 mentions an estimated income of £11.3m to £22.5m and, from our understanding, this is based on every person receiving domiciliary care paying 5% or 10% towards the cost of their care. 

This would mean an annual bill of approximately £487 or £970 for many older people who are already struggling to make ends meet.

As part of our survey, we put forward a number of different payment scenarios, including no-one paying, a voluntary payment and a mandatory 5% or 10% payment. One thing is clear – there is no overwhelming support for any system of payment.

In October 2016, Age Sector Platform conducted research into older people’s experiences of travelling to hospital appointments. Almost half (45%) of respondents said they had experienced difficulty in travelling to hospital appointments within the last two years. 

It is clear from our research that transport to hospital is already a problem for many older people in Northern Ireland, and limiting the resources for the non-emergency patient transport scheme would undoubtedly impact on attendance rates at hospital appointments. 

These missed appointments will cost the health service money and will also impact on the individual’s health and wellbeing, which will in itself cost more money to the health service in the longer term.

Read Age Sector Platform’s full response to the Department of Finance at

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Doreen Patton 23-Mar-2018 at 18:33 hrs

Agree with E. Murphy. Travelling to and from hospital is a problem for many elderly patients and the problem will become greater as our elderly population increases. As services continue to become more centralised consideration is needed to ensure services are accessible to all regardless of where they live and their age. The threat of having to pay for prescriptions and home care is putting too much mental pressure on our elderly people and many now live in fear about how they are going to manager. I feel that offering 15 minute sessions of care in the person's own home is an insult and now asking for paying for this is appalling.


E.Murphy 09-Mar-2018 at 21:23 hrs

First of all I would like to say that as a carer, it makes me cross to watch my 87year old mother in law struggle to come to terms with her declining health and her need to depend on care from others. I think we tend to forget that this generation worked very hard. Many of them for long hours and they endured conditions in the work force which would be unheard of now. In my opinion, they have earned every penny of care that they require now and we should be ashamed to be discussing subjects such as charging for domiciliary care for them. As for paying for prescriptions..Don’t let’s forget, they once paid to see a doctor if they were lucky enough to have the money when needed, so I think they have earned their keep. Younger people at least have a chance to take out a health insurance if the money can not be found but for goodness sake let’s have some respect for our older people in this country. To here that older people are being put in a position where they have to use the few pounds they have managed to scrape together because they had to learn how to be frugal or starve, is sad.