GPs have been told to tighten up procedures to make sure their patients only claim free prescriptions when they are entitled to them, under moves to clamp down on fraudulent claims.
The NHS Business Services Authority said that ‘as the number of post-dispensing checks on free NHS prescriptions increases, GPs are asked to help make sure that their patients understand who is entitled – and who isn’t’.
Under the rules for free prescriptions, patients with long-term medical conditions, pregnant women and those who have had a baby within the last 12 months must be named on a valid exemption certificate.
The Authority said that patients ‘rely on’ GPs to tell them if they are exempt from prescription charges, so GPs must inform them of their eligibility and provide with the forms promptly.
Brendan Brown, head of NHS Help with Health Costs at the NHS Business Services Authority, said: ‘GPs can help reduce the risk of those patients claiming free prescriptions incorrectly by notifying patients of their eligibility, signing and submitting applications for exemption certificates as soon as the qualifying condition is diagnosed or pregnancy is confirmed, and explaining to patients the importance of keeping their certificate up to date.’
He added that GPs and other practice staff are ‘crucial to ensuring NHS money is spent only where it’s needed’.
Dr Andrew Green, chair of the GPC clinical and prescribing subcommittee, said: ‘Clearly when a GP diagnoses a patient with a condition that qualifies them for free prescriptions GPs have a role in advising them of the fact and completing the certificate, however once this is done it is up to others to ensure that their methods of communicating are sufficiently robust to allow patients to understand their obligations.
‘Agencies who continue to regard GPs as an endless fountain of free work are either blind to the crisis in general practice or don’t care about it.’