GPs have been urged to explain to patients the circumstances in which they are eligible for free prescriptions as officials prepare to take a tougher line on claims.
The NHS Business Services Authority has issued around 220,000 penalty charge notices for inappropriate free prescription claims over the past year.
In 2015/16 it expects to drive this up to 500,000, and by 2016/17 it expects to hand out 1.2m fines - which would force patients to pay the cost of the prescription plus a fine of up to £100, with a further £50 if the fine is paid late.
GPs and practice staff 'have an important role to play' in helping patients understand when they are eligible for free prescriptions, according to the NHS Business Services Authority. Patients with a qualifying long-term medical condition, pregnant women and those who have had a baby within the last 12 months must be named on a valid exemption certificate in order to qualify for free prescriptions.
Patients apply for certificates using controlled forms that are supplied to GP practices by NHS England. This process makes the roles of GPs and other practice staff ‘crucial to ensuring NHS money is spent only where it’s needed’, officials said.
Brendan Brown, head of NHS Help with Health Costs, said: 'Many patients remain unaware of the eligibility criteria for exemption from prescription charges and rely on medical professionals to relay this information.
'GPs can help reduce the risk of those patients claiming free prescriptions incorrectly by signing and submitting applications for exemption certificates as soon as the qualifying condition is diagnosed or pregnancy is confirmed, and by explaining to patients the importance of keeping their certificate up to date.'