NHS prescriptions are yet to be updated to include a tick box for people in receipt of universal credit (UC) — a means-tested state benefit for people in the UK on a low income, who are entitled to free prescriptions.
In October 2017, the Department of Health announced that a new NHS prescription form was being designed which would introduce a tick box for people on UC.
The announcement followed anecdotal evidence that some patients recieving the welfare benefit were having to pay for their medicines as there was no fee exemption box for them to tick on the existing prescription form. The introduction of UC, which joined a number of other welfare benefits into a single system, began in 2013.
In a written answer, submitted on 4 March 2019, health minister Steve Brine said that any change to the prescription exemption forms involved “major system and software updates across the NHS to allow the redesigned form to be used and processed”.
He said that the revised paper form, featuring a tick box for UC eligibility, was “currently being prepared for testing” to ensure compatibility with scanners used by the NHS Business Services Authority.
“The revised form will be introduced at the earliest opportunity,” he added.
John Kell, head of policy at the Patients Association said that patients who recieve UC should not be facing a “bureaucratic barrier” to getting the medicines they need to alleviate their illness or discomfort.
“New NHS prescription forms with a tick box for people on [UC] have been in the pipeline for many months, but still haven’t been rolled out.
“The collision between this failure and the dysfunctional penalty charge notice system is a ‘double whammy’ for patients — we know that nearly one in three penalty charges are later withdrawn because the patient was in fact entitled to a free prescription.”
Brine noted that both UC and income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants who meet the criteria for a free NHS prescription can instead tick “exemption box K on the FP10 prescription form”.
But, as a result of this, Brine said that it was not possible to confirm how many penalty charges notices had been issued to UC claimants alone and therefore, how many were issued to UC claimants who had a valid prescription charge exemption.
In 2017, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee published guidance on UC for pharmacists. It states that, “in the absence of a UC box, ask the patient to tick the ‘income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance’ exemption, until the prescription forms are updated”.