More than 80% of community pharmacies in England can now digitally check if a patient is eligible for free prescriptions because of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) exemptions, the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) has confirmed.
The DWP is the UK’s biggest public service department and administers benefits to around 20 million people.
In a statement issued on 11 July 2022, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said the roll-out of the DWP ‘Real Time Exemption Checking’ (RTEC) functionality means eligible patients no longer need to complete an exemption declaration, saving time and paperwork for patients and pharmacy teams.
RTEC was initially piloted in February 2019 to allow pharmacy teams to digitally check if their patients were eligible for free NHS prescriptions because they held 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 — could be checked digitally.
The inclusion of benefits provided by the DWP, such as universal credit and income support, was first trialled in five pharmacies early in 2021, before being rolled out more widely. RTEC is now used by more than 9,000 pharmacies in England.
David Broome, PSNC regional representative for Yorkshire and Humber, said: “The rollout of the DWP for our pharmacy team has been a positive development, helping reduce the amount of paperwork that my team and patients have to deal with and in turn the environmental impact of our operations.
Whereas I used to send my paperwork bundle to the NHSBSA in a large box, I now send this in an envelope.”
Both the NHSBSA and PSNC advised any contractor who had not already done so to complete the RTEC registration form that can be found in the NHSBSA ‘Manage Your Service’ portal to avoid any delays in the system being activated.