Fraudulent free prescription claims cost the NHS millions every year. The authority carried out random checks, resulting in a fine of up to £100 for cases where patients have either knowingly claimed free medication, or made a mistake like having a exemption certificate that had already expired.
Over 1,000,000 penalty notices were issued to patients in England in 2017. However, newly released data shows that 342,882 of these penalty notices later had to be withdrawn by the NHS because they were sent in error. The agency responsible for issuing the fines is The NHS Business Authority, and they have recently commented saying that they are now reviewing their processes to try and reduce the number of patients who are being wrongly accused of fraud.
According to the NHS, part of the problem is that patients are failing to update their records. They say that the answer is to try and educate the public on the importance of keeping their information up to date with their GP, and of ensuring their exemption certificates are up to date.
Alison O’Brien, NHS head of loss recovery services said: “The NHS loses millions each year through fraudulent and incorrect claims for free prescriptions. On behalf of NHS England, and in discussion with the Department of Health and Social Care, the NHS Business Services Authority checks claims randomly and retrospectively to appropriately recover funds and return them to NHS services.”
But, despite the NHS claiming these cases are down to patients, the BMA said that they penalty notices are unfair and penalising those on low incomes or with long term illnesses. Elected BMA council chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: “Fining people should be a last resort. Often those people who may be fined are probably the least able to afford to pay. They’re often people who have multiple conditions who may need regular prescriptions and that costs an awful lot of money.”
Lucy Watson, chair of the Patients Association. “These Freedom of Information requests appear to show a penalty system that is dysfunctional. Any organisation issuing penalty notices and then having to withdraw nearly one in three because they were issued in error is not operating as it should. This compounds the unjust and haphazard nature of prescription charging in England, with some patients facing substantial costs to manage their conditions, and others being entitled to free prescriptions.”
She added: “The bureaucracy around prescriptions is unfit for purpose, and will only get worse if NHS England introduces its planned restrictions on prescribing over the counter medicines,” she said. “Serving notice of penalties for free prescriptions on patients who may be vulnerable and unwell and are then required to demonstrate their right to a free prescription cannot be a compassionate and caring way to manage this system.”