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The NHS Business Service Authority has cancelled around 1.7 million penalty charge notices (PCNs) since 2014. About 30 per cent of those issued as a valid exemption was subsequently confirmed to be in place.

The revelation has been made public following a recent investigation launched by the public spending watchdog, National Audit Office (NAO), into people being wrongly fined for claiming free treatment.

According to the report, 5.6 million PCNs were issued since 2014. The NHS lost around £212 million in 2017-18 from people incorrectly claiming exemption from prescription and dental charges.

“So many successfully challenged penalty charge notices are not a good sign,” said Amyas Morse, the head of NAO.

“Free prescriptions and dental treatments are a significant cost to the NHS, so it is reasonable to reclaim funds from people who are not exempt from charges and deter fraud. However, the NHS also needs to have due regard to people who simply fall foul of the confusing eligibility rules.”

Since 2014, NHS Business Service Authority (NHSBSA) has recovered £133 million. However, 36 per cent of the value of PCNs remain outstanding, and £246 million outstanding debt owed to the government.

The NHS England and NHSBSA have now announced a firmer approach to deterring fraud, as they decided to question people who received five or more PCNs for prescriptions.

NHSBSA has already submitted five cases to consider for criminal proceedings, the report further reveals.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has agreed to the importance of protecting every single NHS pound but pointed to the need for a simpler system.

“Pharmacists should not be the prescription police – they want to spend their time helping people with their medicines rather than checking their exemption status,” Sandra Gidley, Chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England, said.

Gidley suggested free prescriptions as a simpler method, as it evicts the worry about filling out a form of declaration.

“Every day pharmacists are asked by patients who are unable to afford all the items their prescription which ones they could ‘do without’.  Patients shouldn’t have to make choices which involve rationing their medicines. No one should be faced with a financial barrier to getting the medicines they need,” she said.

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