English Pharmacy Board (EPB) chair Sandra Gidley has called on the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) to simplify the way it hands out prescription charge fines to avoid criminalising people who make mistakes navigating the system.
A National Audit Office (NAO) report which looked at how penalty charge notices affect the health of individuals, in particular those who receive notices despite holding a valid exemption and those who struggle to establish if they are eligible for free prescriptions, concluded the system is “complicated and difficult for people to understand.”
That, the NAO said, has resulted in “a significant number of (penalty charge notices) that are later successfully challenged.”
Insisting pharmacists are not “the prescription police” and again calling for the prescription charge in England to be scrapped, Gidley (pictured) said: “It is important that we protect every single NHS pound so it can be spent on caring for the public. Pharmacists understand and support this.
“However, the NAO identifies the current system is too complicated and bureaucratic and there’s plenty of room for improvement. The system needs to be simplified before we start to criminalise those that make a genuine mistake navigating it.
“Pharmacists should not be the prescription police – they want to spend their time helping people with their medicines rather than checking their exemption status.”
Gidley added: “Ultimately, it would be much simpler to have free prescriptions for everyone, as is the case in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, because then no-one would have to worry about filling out a form of declaration.
“They would always have the medicines required, without having to make payment decisions. It would also enable the investment in issuing and monitoring penalty charge notices to be spent on patient care.”
The NAO concluded: “Free prescriptions and dental treatment are a significant cost to the NHS, so it is important that it can reclaim funds from people who are not exempt from charges and deter fraud.
“However, eligibility rules under the current system are complicated and difficult for people to understand, and NHSBSA still issues a significant number of PCNs that are later successfully challenged.
“Since 2014, NHSBSA has significantly increased the number of checks it carries out and the number of PCNs it issues but has only recently started taking commensurate steps to improve public awareness of the rules.
“A simpler system or better real-time checking will be important going forward in deterring fraud but not disadvantaging vulnerable people.”