Free prescriptions are one of the many benefits of the NHS, and thousands of patients receive free prescriptions each year. However, the NHS has been dealing with an increasing number of cases of ‘prescription fraud’, meaning patients will now have to face regular prescription checks in order to keep receiving their medication at no charge. But how will this process affect patients, and what can you do to make sure your prescriptions are up to date?
Why introduce prescription checks
Prescription checks have been introduced due to the increasing amount of prescription fraud that is taking place in the UK. This is is currently costing the NHS in England around £256m a year, which is money that could be better spent elsewhere.
The current process involves patients displaying an exemption certificate or signing their prescription declaring that they are not required to pay the current charge for prescriptions, which is £8.80. Currently checks are made after medication has been provided, and these are done at random.
The plan is to introduce a system which allows pharmacists to identify free prescription holders before issuing any medication. This new digital process will be piloted next year.
What do pharmacists think of the plans?
While the plans are welcomed by some, not everyone agrees that the verification system will be effective. Some professionals have expressed concerns that some patients could be entitled to free prescriptions, but might have failed to renew them in time or incorrectly filled out their paperwork. This could cause problems for people with diabetes and other serious or chronic conditions who would have trouble accessing their insulin, for example.
Fines for false prescription claims doubling
In 2017-18, the number of fines issued to those making false free prescription claims doubled to around 900,000. The fine is currently a £100 penalty.
While there are a number of people seeking free prescriptions illegally, many of the cases are the result of people forgetting to renew exemption certificates or incorrectly completing their paperwork. An electronic register would allow pharmacists to make more thorough checks of who’s eligible and who’s not.
The measures to tackle prescription fraud are just one of the ways that the NHS is seeking to reduce its fraud bill. Reports estimate that fraud costs the NHS £1.2bn a year, the equivalent of around 1% of its budget. Rogue dentists and pharmacists are also being targeted in a bid to reduce fraud by £300m before April 2020.
Keeping up to speed with your medication
With prescription checks only being piloted at the moment, there are things you can do in the meantime to reduce prescription waste. Stay up to date on your prescriptions by noting their renewal dates in your diary and booking an appointment with your GP in enough time to get them renewed. If you feel that your needs have changed or you’d like to reduce the amount of medication you take, then a medication review could help you cut down on unnecessary waste.
Your prescriptions are vital to managing your health needs, so don’t get caught out by not staying up to date. Remember that there are emergency pharmacists available if you need them out of hours, and they can also provide you with medical advice should you need it. Do your bit to help the NHS and the environment by cutting down on medication waste.