NHS has fined me for claiming free prescriptions because of its own mistake

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I received a £100 fine from NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) for claiming free prescriptions, although I’m exempt from charges because I’m pregnant. It seems my midwife forgot to register my exemption when my pregnancy was confirmed in June. The application was resubmitted in October, with a letter explaining the error, but my certificate was only backdated by a month. NHSBSA now says it will remove the fine if £70 of prescription fees are paid within 60 days. I normally have a prepayment certificate for my medication, but stopped it in June when I was told I was exempt. I’m now expected to pay more than the prepayment certificate would have been, during a time I was entitled to free prescriptions.
LH, Telford, Shropshire

Essentially, the NHS is fining you for a mistake of the NHS’s own making. NHSBSA is the public body responsible for cracking down on prescription fraud, but penalises many who can show they claimed in good faith. In your case, it’s not NHSBSA that is to blame, but the government rules that bind it.

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Maternity exemptions from prescription charges can only be backdated by a month. The rule, according to the Department of Health and Social Care, can’t be adjusted under “any circumstances”, not even when the NHS itself made an error, and there are no plans to change this. “Patients are responsible for ensuring they are claiming an entitlement to which they are eligible, and making a correct declaration on their prescription form,” it says, missing the point. You were eligible.

NHSBSA declined to comment. Patients should, of course, check that they have the required exemption certificate. But you assumed that you were safely on the system and few pharmacists request proof. You’d think that in such clearcut cases common sense would prevail but, it seems, nothing and no one can peel off the red tape. I’m afraid you will have to stump up the £70 to avoid the £100 fine added to the bill.

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