HC Deb 27 November 2003 vol 415 cc413-4W
Mrs. Iris Robinson

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what action he has taken to tackle prescription fraud in the NHS in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.[141849]

Angela Smith

The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, together with the Health Boards and the Central Services Agency, has been making considerable efforts to reduce losses through patient exemption fraud.

The key actions taken to date include: The establishment of a dedicated Counter Fraud Unit to coordinate work to tackle prescription fraud; The introduction for pharmacists of point of dispensing/treatment checks to confirm exemption from charges; The introduction of a Fixed Penalty Charge Scheme for those who make false claims for free prescriptions. There have been some 500 charges imposed this year.

In sustaining efforts to further reduce patient exemption fraud it is planned to take the following actions: The implementation of the criminal charge element of the Fixed Penalty Charge regulations. This will provide for a fine, upon conviction, of up to £2,500 for those who have been found to be persistently misclaiming exemption from health service charges; and Renewed publicity early in the new year regarding the Fixed Penalty Charge Scheme and the various categories of exemption that apply across the Family Health Services.

The indications are that the measures introduced over the last few years have contributed to reducing the losses by some £6 million per annum. While this reflects significant progress, we will continue to work for further improvements to ensure that these funds are not denied to the health service.