Comment: NHS officials must tighten and simplify dental treatment and prescription processes
Around 1.7 million fines have been overturned for individuals who were thought to have claimed free dental treatment and prescriptions on the NHS.
Senior Solicitor, Sally Fromont from Fletchers Solicitor’s Medical Negligence Department believes it is time to address a flawed system and simplify the entire process.
“I was alarmed, but not surprised, to learn that 1.7 million fines in respect of NHS prescriptions and dental treatments have been overturned because the claimant was actually entitled to free treatment in the first place.
“This represents approximately one third of the penalty charge notices issued by the NHS since 2014.
“This is not only a waste of money but it is also causing stress to vulnerable people, who are actually entitled to the free treatment; which may make them reluctant to claim in the future.
“The system needs simplifying to protect both those entitled to claim for the free treatment, from harassment and threats of fines; and to protect the much needed NHS resource from abuse by those not entitled to the free treatment.
“It also needs tightening, at source, to avoid un-necessary costs being incurred in enforcement proceedings.
“This problem is not new.
“The National Audit Office (NAO) has revealed there has been a large increase in sending penalty charge notices in respect of treatment costs in the last five years.
“To put this into context, there has been a 32 fold increase, according to NAO, in prescription checks from 2015-15 when 750,000 checks were made and 24 million checks in 2018-2019.
“This in itself is costing money that could be saved if the system was robustly checked and enforced at source.
“Under the current system patients, who are given a card to prove their entitlement to free prescriptions, are rarely asked to produce this by the pharmacy.
“The back of the prescription, which sets out the different criteria for non-payment, also needs to be simplified to avoid genuine mistakes.
“In summary, we need a reform of the system, and quickly.
“The NHS are right to address the dental and prescription fraud to ensure the valuable NHS resource is used appropriately, but the system needs to be simplified to avoid genuine claiming mistakes.
“It also needs to be tightened, at point of collection, so that free treatment will only be provided with proof of entitlement.
“These steps should result in less fraudulent claims being made and succeeding; and would avoid vulnerable people, who are entitled to the free treatment, from being harassed with threats of fines.
“This in turn would save the NHS money both in terms of treatment costs and in pursuing fraudulent claims.”