Monday, December 7, 1998 Published at 14:29 GMT
Prescription fraud clampdown
Patients will have to provide proof of exemption rights
The Scottish Office has announced a clampdown on prescription fraud.
It is estimated that prescription fraud costs the NHS in Scotland up to £10m a year.
From January, people claiming free prescriptions will be asked for evidence of their entitlement.
Pharmacists will dispense prescriptions to patients claiming exemption, whether or not they provide proof.
But where patients do not produce any proof of exemption at the point of dispensing, the prescription forms will be marked, batched and processed separately for payments so that anti-fraud checks can be carried out more effectively.
In addition, pharmacists will inform such patients that they must bring proof in future.
Unacceptable scale of fraud
Scottish Health Minister Sam Galbraith said: "Many people receive free prescriptions. But some people who claim them are not entitled to do so.
"They may have made a mistake or they may be deliberately evading charges. Either way it is draining money out of the NHS.
"Fraud of this scale is unacceptable. I am confident that the new checks will bring a significant reduction in an abuse of money provided by taxpayers for the NHS. Fraud savings will then be directed to the proper priority - patient care."
There are a number of categories of entitlement to free prescriptions. They fall into three main groups: age, medical conditions and receipt of income-related benefits.
Patients claiming exemption will be asked either to provide evidence to demonstrate that they are in the appropriate age groups (for example, a passport), to show their medical exemption certificate or to show a Benefits Agency form which states the period of entitlement to a relevant benefit.
Posters are being distributed at present to pharmacies, GP surgeries and Citizens' Advice Bureaux to announce the introduction of these checks.
Leaflets are also being made available at pharmacies to remind people of the conditions of entitlement to free prescriptions and to advise on acceptable forms of evidence or entitlement.
Similar rules are expected to be announced for England and Wales in the next few weeks.