New checks to crack down on free prescription fraud


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England is the only part of the UK which charges for prescriptions

Patients claiming free prescriptions face checks before medicine is issued in an effort to stamp out fraud.

Prescription fraud currently costs the NHS an estimated £256m a year in England.

A new digitised system to be piloted next year will mean pharmacies can instantly verify who is entitled to free medication.

But pharmacists have opposed similar plans in the past, saying they harm patient trust.

Currently, patients either present an exemption certificate or sign the back of their prescription stating they do not have to pay the £8.80 charge.

The NHS Business Authority runs random checks, but only after the medication has been dispensed.

In 2016-17, the number of £100 fines it issued for false claims doubled to more than 900,000.

‘No easy target’

The new approach will require pharmacists to check the digital exemption system before handing over medication.

Mr Hancock said: “The message is clear. The NHS is no longer an easy target and if you try to steal from it you will face the consequences.”

England is the only part of the UK which charges for prescriptions.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the British Medical Association have said many of those fined are not fraudsters, but people who fail to complete paperwork properly or forget to renew their exemption.

People with long-term illnesses and on low incomes were most likely to be affected, they said.

Fraud is estimated to cost the NHS £1.2bn a year, or about 1% of its total budget.

The prescription checks are part of a series of measures intended to prevent £300m of fraud by April 2020.

Other measures include a counter-fraud team targeting rogue dentists and pharmacists who charge the NHS for work they have not carried out.



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