The number of penalty notices issued for fraudulently claiming free prescriptions that have been overturned increased to more than 20,000 in 2018/2019 because these patients had paid for their prescriptions.
According to figures from the NHS Business Services Authority (BSA), published on 5 September 2019, the total number of penalty charges closed because the patient had paid for the prescription was 1,122 in 2014/2015, rising to 21,497 in 2018/2019. The figure increased in each of the past five years.
In May 2019, a National Audit Office report highlighted that the NHS BSA issued 5.6 million penalty charge notices between 2014/2015 and 2017/2018, worth a total £676m, to patients who appeared to have wrongly claimed for a free prescription.
Alison O’Brien, head of loss recovery at NHS BSA, acknowledged the “small number of cases” in which “pharmacy staff have submitted prescription data to NHS BSA indicating that the patient claimed exemption, which later turned out to be incorrect”, adding that the increase was “in line with increased checks” of patient eligibility overall.
In 2018, a freedom of information request reported by The Guardian showed that one in three patients given penalty notices — around 340,000 people — were wrongly accused of prescription fraud in 2017.
A pilot scheme allowing pharmacists to digitally check patient entitlement to free NHS prescriptions was to be extended to 10% of pharmacies in England “over the summer” of 2019, a senior civil servant at the Department of Health and Social Care told the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee in July 2019.