1.3MILLION people were fined last year for wrongly trying to claim NHS prescriptions for free
The number of people fined for wrongly trying to claim free NHS prescriptions topped more than 1.3 million last year.
A total of 1,379,957 penalty notices were issued across England in 2018 – which is a third more than last year and a 60 per cent increase from three years earlier.
Figures show that 1,052,430 were penalised in 2017, which was an increased from 864,366 in 2016.
The shocking statistics come amid a government crackdown on prescription fraud, which experts believe costs the NHS £256million annually.
Fraudulent: A total of 1,379,957 penalty notices were issued across England in 2018
The NHS Business Services Authority, which disclosed the data, is hoping to halve that sum by 2020, the British Medical Journal reported.
It told the BMJ it has already recovered ‘in excess of £80million’ since September 2014.
But that amount is set to increase after Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced a zero-tolerance approach last October.
‘The NHS is no longer an easy target and if you try to steal from it, you will face the consequences,’ he said, adding that rogue pharmacists and dentists who cheat the health service will also be targeted by the NHS’s counter-fraud team.
He added: ‘Those who abuse the NHS and choose to line their own pockets with money that should be spent on patients and frontline care will no longer have anywhere to hide.
‘The new technology and analysis, combined with the intelligence and experience of counter-fraud specialists, will form the starting point of this fight against NHS fraudsters.’
Health Minister Stephen Barclay, a trained lawyer who worked in roles targeting financial crime before entering politics, is leading the initiative.
Zero-tolerance: Rogue pharmacists and dentists who cheat the health service will also be targeted by the NHS’s counter-fraud team
Expensive: The shocking statistics come amid a government crackdown on prescription fraud, which experts believe costs the NHS £256 million annually
However, Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee, told the BMJ that ineligible claims are often made unknowingly.
‘It’s almost always the case that people have unwittingly not renewed their certificates of information that entitles them to free prescriptions.
‘Real care needs to be taken in the messaging, as it can come across as very threatening to individuals. It’s not unusual for patients to be extremely distressed by the suggestion that they have committed fraud.’