THOUSANDS of people in Worcester and the county could be set to lose out on free prescriptions.

Nearly 6,000 in Worcester - and up to 40,000 in Worcestershire will no longer qualify under new rules currently under consultation by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to scrap free prescriptions for the over 60s and raise the qualifying age to 66.

The move has prompted the chairman of the county's patients watchdog to express concerns about the idea as the DHSC consultation closed on Thursday.

Thousands of people responded to the consultation which would see the qualifying age raised to be in line with the state pension age.

According to Office for National Statistics population data more than 40,000 people in the county, including nearly 6,000 in Worcester, more than 9,000 in Wychavon - which includes Droitwich and Evesham - and more than 6,000 in Malvern Hills are in the age group that would no longer qualify for free prescriptions.

However some - potentially a third of this number based on the DHSC national impact analysis - would still qualify in other ways for a free prescription.

Jo Ringshall, chairman of Healthwatch, the body representing Worcestershire patients, said: "Healthwatch do have concerns about the removal of free prescriptions from people over 60 in the future.

"Whilst people with certain long term conditions and those on benefits will still receive free prescriptions, and it is likely that those currently over 60 will be protected, the people who will be worst hit will be those on low incomes but just above the benefit line.

"We do have concerns that this will re-enforce existing health inequalities and make prescription medication for this group difficult to afford."

Twenty healthcare organisations, including Age UK, the Royal College of GPs and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), have signed a joint open letter urging the government to reconsider the plans, adding it will “have a lasting adverse affect on the half (52 per cent) of 60 to 64-year-olds with one or more long term conditions."

And the Prescription Charges Coalition - a coalition of of more than 20 charities representing patient groups, warned that short-term gains from making people pay for prescriptions for longer will actually cost the NHS more money in the longer term.

A DHSC spokesman said: “The age people get free prescriptions in England has not changed since 1974 for women and 1995 for men, so we are consulting on aligning the upper age exemption from prescription charges with the state pension age.

“We continue to protect the most vulnerable and support is available for those on a low income and those on certain benefits.

"Almost 90 per cent of prescription items dispensed in the community in England in 2019 were free of charge, and there are other exemptions in place for certain medical conditions and expectant or new mothers.”

Robin Walker, Worcester's MP, was unavailable for comment.