Hundreds of thousands of patients have been wrongly accused of fraudulently claiming free subscriptions, reports suggest.
A freedom of information request from The Guardian revealed that 340,000 people were wrongly accused of prescription fraud in 2017.
This equates to almost a third of penalty notices issued in 2017 for wrongly claiming free medication being subsequently withdrawn.
In all, the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) sent out 1,052,430 penalty notices, which carry a maximum fine of £100 – about double that of the previous year.
But of those, 342,882 penalty notices were later withdrawn because it transpired the patient was actually eligible for free prescriptions.
The Patients Association said the figures appeared to show a dysfunctional system.
Lucy Watson, Patients Association chair, said: “Any organisation issuing penalty notices and then having to withdraw nearly one in three, because they were issued in error, is not operating as it should.
“This compounds the unjust and haphazard nature of prescription charging in England, with some patients facing substantial costs to manage their conditions, and others being entitled to free prescriptions.”
One reason for the errors is patients failing to update details when they change address. The NHSBSA said it was working to educate patients on the importance of keeping the details of both their GP records and their exemption or prescription prepayment certificate up to date.
Director for England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Robbie Turner, said the current mechanism for collecting prescription charges was complicated, historical and unfair.
“The RPS has long campaigned for free prescriptions for everybody in England so patients who can’t afford to pay are not disadvantaged,” he said.
“This data demonstrates the current system is not fit for purpose and should be reviewed.”
This article was amended on 20 March 2018.