The government has resisted pharmacists' calls for the prescription-checking system to be overhauled, following the Mail on Sunday's claim that pharmacists are operating a "scandalously careless" system.
The Department of Health (DH) told C+D this week that pharmacy staff played an "essential role in preventing any fraud" by asking to see proof of eligibility of exemption and there were no plans to alter the system.
"We want to make sure that people in England who are entitled to free prescriptions get them," a DH spokesperson added.
The Department of Health argued that pharmacy staff played an "essential role in preventing any fraud" by asking to see proof of eligibility of exemption
More on prescription charges
Pharmacy Voice and PSNC told C+D on Monday (July 22) that the prescription charges system needed to be reviewed to remove the burden from pharmacies and reduce NHS costs.
Their comments came in response to the Mail's claims last weekend (July 20-21) that pharmacists were handing out "free" medicines to "prescription cheats".
Posting on C+D's website this week, pharmacists also criticised the prescription-checking system for being too time consuming and called for a universal rule on prescriptions payments.
Locum pharmacist Calum Nelson said the categories for receiving free prescriptions were "entirely arbitrary" and asked whether the income from prescription charges justified the cost of enforcing exemptions.
Mike Hewitson, owner of Beaminster Pharmacy, Dorset, said the time spent checking exemptions was "completely disproportionate" to the number of prescription charges.
"In my pharmacy, 2 per cent of items are paid [and] 98 per cent are exempt. Yet quality control on exemption checking takes one member of staff about three days a month," he said.
Pharmacy technician Benjamin Leon D'Montigny called for a universal rule for prescription payments.
"It would be such a minimal cost on the patient if everyone pays a proportionate amount," said Mr D'Montigny. "Without taking into consideration age exemptions, everyone would have to pay 70p per item and the NHS will still have the same amount of funds from prescription charges."
Community pharmacist Sunil Kochlar said it was not the role of the pharmacist or pharmacy staff to check exemptions, arguing they were "not paid to act as collectors".
Pharmacy leaders warned this week that the profession faced a "PR dilemma" and needed to look seriously at how it is represented.
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