More than 75% of pharmacies can digitally check patients’ eligibility for free NHS prescriptions

The 'Real Time Exemption Checking' scheme allows pharmacies to check if patients are exempt from prescription charges.
pharmacist on computer

Staff in more than three quarters of community pharmacies in England are now able to digitally check patients’ entitlement to free NHS prescriptions, pharmacy negotiators have said.

In a statement on its website, issued on 25 May 2021, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said the ‘Real Time Exemption Checking’ (RTEC) scheme was saving time and paper, as well as reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

RTEC, which was initially piloted in February 2019, allows pharmacy teams to digitally check if their patients are eligible for free NHS prescriptions because they hold specific exemptions.

As part of the first phase of RTEC, exemptions from prescription charges related to maternity, medical exemptions, prepayment certificates, HC2 (NHS low-income scheme) or NHS tax credits.

As of February 2021, five pharmacies were piloting a second phase of RTEC, allowing pharmacists to check for Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) exemptions.

This does not include Universal Credit exemptions, which will be rolled out as part of a third phase.

According to the PSNC website, the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) is working with DWP to further expand the phase two pilot to more pharmacies.

“Pharmacies already using RTEC report that it saves staff time and because a patient that is found to be exempt via RTEC does not need to complete an exemption declaration on an EPS [electronic prescription service] token, it reduces the use of paper, decreasing the risk of transmission of infection during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the PSNC statement said.

The RTEC scheme was first trialled in four pharmacies in Oldham, Greater Manchester; Leeds, West Yorkshire; Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire; and Manchester in February 2019, before being rolled out to 10% of pharmacies in the summer of that year.

However, according to meeting papers from the PSNC’s Community Pharmacy IT group, plans for more pharmacies to start using RTEC were paused in summer until winter 2020, while NHSBSA and pharmacy IT system suppliers “discussed new arrangements for data sharing”.

The roll out of RTEC had previously been delayed in December 2018, owing to the prioritisation of work on the Falsified Medicines Directive.

Ahead of the scheme’s launch, the government said RTEC could halve the current amount of prescription fraud, which costs the NHS £256m each year, and was expected to prevent up to £300m being lost to fraud by April 2020.

Read more: MPs call for real-time exemption checking to be prioritised.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, May 2021, Vol 306, No 7949;306(7949)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.87798

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