Community pharmacists in England will in future be able to confirm whether a patient is entitled to free prescriptions by accessing a Department of Work and Pensions database, according to the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA).
The NHSBSA is developing a system that will allow pharmacists to access the database to help them verify a patient’s prescription charge exemption status.
The NHSBSA says the initiative, which is part of its ongoing campaign to clampdown on prescription fraud by patients, is in its early stages of development.
The move has been strongly criticised by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), which says that the move will “disrupt and distort the relationship between pharmacist and patient”.
“We are opposed to any move that adds to the bureaucratic burden of pharmacists without improving patient safety in any way,” says RPS English Pharmacy Board chair David Branford.
“This new system puts pharmacists in an invidious position where they will be asking patients to pay or risk prosecution. Our job is to put the needs of vulnerable people first and make sure they get the care they need.”
A survey by the Prescription Charges Coalition, which campaigns for prescription charges to be abolished in England, carried out earlier in 2014 found that of the 5,000 people questioned with long-term conditions, 37% said that the cost of their medicines meant they were not taking the drugs as prescribed and 70% said this had led to them having to take time off work.