MPs: “Government must scrap unfair diabetes fines”

18th March 2015

A group of cross-party MPs, including the Labour Shadow Health Minister, Jamie Reed, are calling on the Government to stop fining people with diabetes for claiming free prescriptions they are entitled to because they do not hold the right paperwork.

In England, people aged between 18 – 60, who use insulin or medication to manage their diabetes, are entitled to claim free prescriptions but must have a valid medical exemption certificate to do so. Many people with the condition do not know they need a certificate and have claimed prescriptions for years without any problems. This low level of awareness is due to poor communication and a poorly managed system for checking prescription exemptions.

Last year, the NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA), commissioned by NHS England, introduced a new Prescription Exemption Checking Service. This was meant to identify fraudulent claims. However, as awareness of the need for exemption certificates is so low, this sudden change has seen large numbers of people with diabetes being fined up to £100, on top of the cost of their prescription. People with diabetes are not claiming fraudulently, and for many receiving a fine was the first time they had heard about the need for a medical exemption certificate. 

Labour Shadow Health Minister, Jamie Reed, and a group of cross-party MPs including the former Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Health, John Healey, have written to Health Minister Dan Poulter calling on the Government to urgently review its policy. Over 18,000 people were fined for claiming free prescriptions without a medical exemption certificate between September 2014 and December 2014; they argue that this is clearly due to a lack of effective communication with diabetes and healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, about medical exemption certificates. 

Believing the current approach is unfair, they ask the Government to introduce an amnesty on fines until the need for a medical exemption certificate has been properly communicated. They want to see people issued with a warning as a first step, ahead of being fined, and have demanded that the NHS cancels and reimburses fines issued to date, unfairly, to those eligible for free prescriptions.

Jamie Reed MP, Labour Shadow Health Minister, said: 

“The Government is right to tackle fraudulent prescription claims but at present this policy is unfairly penalising people with diabetes for claiming free prescriptions they are entitled to. Fines already issued to these individuals should be cancelled and reimbursed.  There needs to be an amnesty on fines until the Government has reviewed its policy and the need for a medical exemption certificate has been effectively communicated. Only then will this policy work effectively, rather than penalising innocent individuals.”

Barbara Young, Diabetes UK’s Chief Executive, said: 

“It is totally unacceptable that people with diabetes are being penalised for claiming free prescriptions without a medical exemption certificate. For many years people have claimed prescriptions without any problems and this dramatic rise in issuing of fines has shown a huge lack of awareness about the need for the certificates. This is not the fault of people with diabetes. Living with this condition can be hard enough, without facing the additional challenge of unfair and misplaced fines for claiming free prescriptions they are entitled to and that are critical to their health. 

“This is a direct result of poor communication and management of the prescription exemption policy by the Government, and as such they must address this issue immediately. Fines issued to people with diabetes to date must be reimbursed, and going forward no further fines should be issued until the need for a medical exemption certificate to claim free prescriptions has been clearly communicated to all people with diabetes and healthcare professionals.”

The letter Dan Poulter is receiving from a group of cross-party MPs has been signed by Adrian Sanders MP, John Healey MP and Nick De Bois MP.
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