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NHS campaign aims to encourage patients to check free prescription eligibility

A nationwide campaign to help crack down on patients claiming free prescriptions when they are not eligible is to be launched on 10 September 2018.

‘Check before you tick’ is being run jointly by NHS England and the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) to encourage patients to check their eligibility, using a new online eligibility checker, before ticking the free prescriptions box. It will also highlight the possible consequences of making an incorrect claim.

According to the NHSBSA, mistaken or fraudulent free prescription claims cost NHS England an estimated £237m a year and, consequently, the NHSBSA plans to significantly increase the number of prescriptions checked each month in an attempt to reduce this cost.

Not all benefits automatically entitle the recipient to free prescriptions: those on income-based jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) can claim, but people on contribution-based JSA cannot. 

NHSBSA checks claims retrospectively, on behalf of NHS England, and if a patient is found to have claimed a free prescription when they are not eligible, they may be issued with a penalty charge notice (PCN) of up to £100.

In 2017, the NHSBSA said the number of fines had doubled from 494,129 in 2015/2016 to 979,210 fines in 2016/2017, and reached more than a million in 2017/2018.

From early September 2018, a suite of ‘Check before you tick’ resources in support of the campaign, including posters and leaflets, will be posted to pharmacies and will also be available to download.

Sandra Gidley, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society English Pharmacy Board, said pharmacy teams currently receive “little or no training in eligibility criteria for exemptions, especially in the field of benefits”.

“If this [campaign] provides greater clarity for patients and resources are freely available then this is a very welcome initiative, especially as there appears to be an increase in the number of people receiving letters challenging their declaration,” she said.

But she cautioned that pharmacy teams are “very hard pressed” and while information is welcome it would not be an appropriate use of staff time for teams to have to provide more stringent checks.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee has recently updated its briefing on prescription exemptions to provide a guide of the categories of exemptions from the NHS prescription charge, and the proof required for each.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2018.20205372

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