Revealed:The chaotic free prescription and dental treatment scandal

An example of an attempt to check whether you are entitled to a free prescription by Trent Valley Surgery

If you are under 60 and over 16 do you know when you can get a free prescription and free dental treatment? No, if you don’t you are in good company and if you claim could even be one of 1.7 million people in England falsely sent a £100 penalty by the NHS.

A absolutely scathing report out today from MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee today describes the whole system for regulating free prescriptions and dental services as ” not fit for purpose “.

It reveals that despite a so called 24 page ” simplified ” guide telling you when you qualify most people are completely confused and rightly so.And if you get it wrong you are automatically guilty of fraud and get a £100 penalty fine rising to £150 if you don’t pay it promptly.

The report said :” Exemptions from prescription and dental charges include age, maternity, receipt of certain means-tested benefits, low income, and long-term medical conditions in some cases, although we are told that this list of long-term conditions has not been updated for 50 years [YES 50 YEARS -my point] save the addition of cancer in 2009. “

Worse qualification for a free prescription does not automatically qualify you for free dental treatment. And if you are on Universal Credit your right to claim will vary from month to month depending on your income.

The report says : “There is currently no way of indicating receipt of Universal Credit on prescription forms, resulting in more confusion, and the Department for Work and Pensions does not confirm eligibility when they write to claimants about their confirmed benefit entitlements.”

The result of all this chaos is that since 2014 no fewer than 5.6 million penalty notices have been issued and 1.7 million have had to dropped once the person challenged it because it was found out they were entitled to claim.

Naturally the threat of penalities has made vulnerable people more frightened of going to the dentist for essential treatment in case they were fined and to get prescription medicines.

Worse the policing of the system to prevent fraud has been an abysmal failure. The report found “nearly 115,000 people have received five or more PCNs [penalty notices] for prescriptions, over 1,600 have received 20 or more—yet only five cases have been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. Only one has been heard in court ” Yes that it right one court case.

And anyway the NHS does not have a proper system for collecting the debt – relying in part on Capita.

The MPs said: “The PCN process generated a net yield of £25 million for the NHS, a pitiful sum compared to the annual cost of prescriptions which is around £9 billion. We do not dispute that it is right to try and deter fraud and recover costs mistakenly paid by the NHS, but the current system is not fit for purpose.

Now there is a simple high tech solution to check prescription entitlement in real time – and the government is committed to eventually introducing a computerised system. It is trialing one now in just four chemists. How pathetic is that.

Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, makes some very pertinent points .

Patients find it very confusing to understand whether or not they can claim free prescriptions or dental treatment because of a convoluted system that causes patients, in some cases, distress.

“A presumption of guilt means penalty charge notices are issued too readily, particularly where vulnerable people are concerned. Yet where there is clear evidence that people are persistently committing fraud by making false claims, there has been a failure to take effective action.

The Committee fully support efforts to deter fraud and pursue those who claim exemptions to which they are not entitled to but the current penalty notice system is cumbersome, inefficient and not fit for purpose.

The Department should substantially overhaul the system, so that those who are rightfully entitled to free prescriptions and dental treatment get the exemption they deserve.”

Over to the NHS to sort out this scandal – one among many. MPs want to call officials back next year to explain how they have solved it.

8 thoughts on “Revealed:The chaotic free prescription and dental treatment scandal

  1. I get one of these every time I go to the dentist. The system cannot tell the difference between Bill Kruse/same birthday/same address and William Kruse/same birthday etc. so it doesn’t show I have an HC3. I advise them of this online each time and the demand gets cancelled. However, after lengthy communication with NHS Business Services it becomes apparent that they have no actual proof, nor any actual evidence, of any wrongdoing. They go by what the receptionists at dentists tell them, and advise me that this comminication is in some digital format, a form they aren’t able to reproduce to show me and thus, I gather, show a court either. I’m going to guess then they have no way they can go before a court to pursue these claims as they have no evidence, and nor can the system as it is provide them with any. Probably simplest for recipients to file these notices in the bin then, and for the govt to file the company involved in this nonsense in there with them.

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  2. Why is it always the vulnerable who are targeted. You don’t want to claim benefits but it’s where life takes you, through no fault of your own, and you have no alternative. We need quality of life and not feel guilty when asking for help to get thru difficult times. No one is immortal, so let us help one another instead of making life harder to deal with. Hope these issues are dealt with sooner rather than later for those people involved.

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  3. My wife received a penalty notification despite having a receipt for payment, the system is geared up to target randomly without a word of apology.

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  4. It’s so complicated and stressful for staff in pharmacies, why not just charge £1 per prescription? That wouldn’t (in many cases) pay for the cost of the drugs but would put millions in to the NHSs coffers. 90% of people currently claim free prescription and it is up to the poor counter staff to challenge that.I am sure most wouldn’t mind making a token gesture for the sake of the NHS and even rich over 60s don’t pay a penny under present system. If you can’t pay a pound eveyt time you get a prescription, you could apply for a season ticket type exemption.

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  5. At the risk of upsetting some people, the NHS would save millions of pounds by increasing the age that free prescriptions are given automatically from 60 to 65. I would gladly pay for mine if I were in work at that stage, and I am sure that those who are working and earning a reasonable salary would also endorse my point of view. It is a very complicated system anyway, but there are still those who attempt to get a free script for a packet of paracetomol, and that is very immoral.

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  6. i would’nt want the age for free prescription’s raising from 60 to 65 it;s the only thing i can get free ,i have no pension yet but you are saying you would gladly pay for yours if you were in work at that stage of your life ,most of us 1950s ladies are on their knees with bringing up families plus working at the age of 60 never mind 65 ,plus what about jobs for the younger generation ,i get what your saying but most of us ladies have no funding to pay for the prescription’s we need as it is ,i could’nt afford my inhalers & statins i am not fit for work but do not get a penny i have to rely on my partner through no fault of my own …

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