A new NHS prescription form is being designed which will introduce a tick box for people on universal credit confirming that they are exempt from prescription charges, the Department of Health said on Tuesday (31 October 2017).
The announcement follows anecdotal evidence that some patients on the new UK welfare benefit are having to pay for their medicines because there is no fee exemption box for them to tick on the back of the current prescription form.
According to the single-parent charity Gingerbread, some patients are also facing penalty fines of up to £100 for non-payment of a prescription fee following their confusion over how to confirm their free entitlement, which is pushing them further into debt, it claims.
The Department of Health said that it was aware of the issue and was “working with contractors and stakeholders to ensure a new prescription form is introduced”.
The spokesperson was unable to say when the new forms offering an exemption option for universal credit claimants would be introduced.
Meanwhile, community pharmacy negotiators are directing the profession to its universal credit guidance, which is available on its website.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said that because patients on universal credit — which is being phased in across the UK — can get their prescriptions filled at any pharmacy, it was important that all pharmacists were made aware of the current advice.
According to the PSNC guidance, community pharmacists are being told to check the universal credit status of patients and tell them to tick the “income-based job seekers allowance box” instead in order to claim their entitlement to free prescriptions.
In cases where the patient cannot confirm their universal credit status, pharmacists should tick the “evidence not seen box” on the form instead, PSNC advises, adding: “Pharmacy staff need not refuse to dispense items on the basis that the patient does not provide evidence of their entitlement to free prescriptions.”
Advice for patients claiming universal credit and their entitlement to free prescriptions is available on the NHS Choices website.