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DH enlists pharmacists to digitally check prescription exemptions

DH: Fraudsters who scam the NHS will be exposed and brought to justice
DH: Fraudsters who scam the NHS will be exposed and brought to justice

Prescription exemptions will be digitised so pharmacists can help “thwart” patients who wrongfully claim free prescriptions, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) has said.

A pilot – due to begin next year – will see “new smart data-matching technology being deployed on the frontline” so pharmacists can check whether a patient is exempt before medication is dispensed, the DH announced yesterday (October 14).

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “The new technology and analysis, combined with intel and experience of counter-fraud specialists will form the starting point of this new fight against NHS fraudsters.

“Those who abuse the NHS and choose to line their own pockets with money that should be spent on patients and frontline care will no longer have anywhere to hide,” he added.

Mr Hancock has committed to halving prescription fraud, which currently costs the NHS £256 million a year, the DH said.

Wider crackdown to “save billions”

The focus on prescription fraud, with the aim to “prevent up to £300 million of taxpayers’ money being stolen by April 2020”, is part of the DH’s wider strategy to reduce waste and “save the NHS billions of pounds over the next five years”.

Mr Hancock also announced a drive to uncover “a minority of pharmacists” who carry out “large-scale scams” by claiming payments for services they have not carried out.

“Efficiency drive”

The wider strategy to crack down on fraud is also part of an “efficiency drive” across the NHS, which includes the rollout of electronic prescribing and switching to “equally effective, low value medicines”, the DH said.

“This is part of the government’s commitment to ensure public finances are managed responsibly and that every penny invested goes towards improving care, as the Prime Minister set out when she announced the recent funding deal for the NHS,” the DH added.

The Twitter reaction:
How do you feel about being asked to digitally check prescription exemptions?

Umer Bhuta, Community pharmacist

Department Of Health already know when most exemptions expire anyway as they're the ones who issue them. So why can't you check your records against the EPS submissions? Why should I police the public on behalf of the government when the government is clearly out to diminish, undermine, devalue, isolate and belittle pharmacists and their teams. Engage, include, invest and work together with us then perhaps. Otherwise leave us alone and let us carry on to pick up the pieces of your disastrous cuts and austerity.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

If I was interested in thwarting" bad guys, I would have joined the police force. Quite simply, it is not my job!

V K P, Community pharmacist

they should integrate the exemptions in to the NHS APP which is being launched by NHS digital. the APP is the responsibility of the patient so is their exemption. I think they should handle the exemptions via the APP and at their end. Once again, do not pass unfunded tasks our way. PSNC will at best say that funding might be considered in the next financial year. Then the checks will also be initiated when the funding is confirmed. Where there is no funding, take the checking to the GPs and see what they say.

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

Ah. The 'clinical' future of pharmacy. Get out there and interact with the public. Tuppence halfpenny to act as state-appointed snoopers...

NISHI Patel, Community pharmacist

So what does the NHS Fraud Team get paid to do? Oh sorry, sit in an Air Conditioned office, drink free coffee, have lunch breaks finish at 530pm. So the DH wants pharmacists to police the public sorry not my role I'm a Pharmacist who is an expert in medication not a fraud officer! Ask the prescriber to check exemptions before the Rx is issued...oh you can't can you because the BMA will be all over you!

Richard MacLeavy, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

Don't be silly, they never work until 5.30pm. Try phoning them a minute past 5pm.


PARESH shah, Community pharmacist

PSNC. Note all comments and feelings among the pharmacist community. We are not interested in providing this service however well it is paid, as most payments have been washed away if they are not priced and paid separately.Also we have enough paperwork as a result of the electronic prescription service, which is taking a lot more of our time, FMD coming up by February, GDPR etc etc. Please sort out payments for these first.




TasB H, Community pharmacist

the department can go take a long walk of a short pier.

this government has been busy cutting our income for the last few years. I have no inclination to help them whatsoever. the funding cuts have decimated our cash flow and our ability to provide a basic level of service. I sure as hell ain't gonna be doing anything to help this government until it shows the profession some real respect
in any event my job is to help patients receive a good clinical pharmaceutical service. i am not a tax investigator. I don't recall applying to hmrc for that role. the health secretary can go find some other suckers to do this.

fab fabioso, Locum pharmacist

So this fraud "crackdown" will save about 0.1% of the current NHS budget. I hope this is just cynical PR.I'd hate to think the bureaucrats and politicians running the NHS are this clueless.( though it would certainly explain a lot) 

Dave Downham, Manager

Does anyone think that 29,000,000 fraudulent exemptions sounds a tad high? With 11,000 pharmacies suggests 50 items per pharmacy per week is fraudulent which is about a third of paid items. Really?


Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

I have some questions:

1. Are we being paid to do this?

2. What happens if the pharmacy is unable to confirm the accuracy of the exemption claim?

3. What happens if the pharmacy incorrectly validates or refutes the exemption claim? Is the pharmacy then liable?

All I foresee is lots of extra work and lots of unhappy patients

C A, Community pharmacist

1 - No
2 - Get them to pay and issue an FP57
3 - It will just be switched and the pharmacy will be charged the levy

Sounds great doesn't it. FP57s are great and don't take any time to fill in. Let alone the check and validate of the exemption.

Kirit Shah, Community pharmacist

The GOVT cannot manage Universal Credit benefits at the moment so do you think they will be able to have an IT system which will be able to check if a patient is entitled to free prescriptions?

Personally I think it should be up to the patient to make correct declarations and if they do not provide proof of exemptions I and my team marks a X at the back of the script.We have displayed the signs informing them that there is a fine for making fraudulent declarations!


Farhat Ahmed, Locum pharmacist

One patient uses ONE DR'S surgery, but the same patient could use any one of the thousands of pharmacies out there. Shouldn't Mr Hancock be giving the wondeful software to the DR so that the exemption status can be put on the prescription at the point where the prescription is being generated.

Good try but no cigar as they say. The Rx could be months old when presented.

I prefer that neither GP practice nor pharmacy have anything to do with this. The best system is to have all Rx checked by the PPD and fines issued. 

C A, Community pharmacist

That's far too easy what with the PPA having all the data electronically sent to them with EPS scripts, then just have the software cross reference it and issue fines prn.

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