Hundreds of thousands of NHS patients are being wrongly accused of fraudulently claiming free prescriptions and are being threatened with fines.
Data released under the Freedom of Information Act shows that 1,052,430 penalty notices were issued to patients in England in 2017 – about double the level in the previous year.
The fines, which carry a maximum penalty of £100 and are issued to those who wrongly claim free medication, are issued after an NHS exemption certificate has expired.
But the data confirms that 342,882 penalty notices were subsequently withdrawn because the patient was entitled to the free prescription.
“These Freedom of Information requests appear to show a penalty system that is dysfunctional,” said Lucy Watson, chair of the Patients Association. “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.”
She continued, “The bureaucracy around prescriptions is unfit for purpose, and will only get worse if NHS England introduces its planned restrictions on prescribing over the counter medicines,” she said. “Serving notice of penalties for free prescriptions on patients who may be vulnerable and unwell and are then required to demonstrate their right to a free prescription cannot be a compassionate and caring way to manage this system.”