Roll out of electronic system to check prescription exemptions begins

Author: Ingrid Torjesen

An NHS electronic system which enables pharmacies to immediately check if a patient is eligible for free prescriptions is being rolled out nationally.

The Real Time Exemption Checking (RTEC) service lets pharmacy staff see if a patient needs to pay for their prescription when it is dispensed. The approach is quicker for both pharmacy staff and patients, should reduce prescription fraud and help ensure patients who are unsure whether they are entitled to free prescriptions do not pay for them.

The system uses the patient’s NHS number, names, date of birth and postcode to conduct the check. The patient’s status will display that they are ‘exempt’, or ‘unknown’ if no exemption is found. Patients will no longer be required to sign the patient declaration on the prescription form if the system shows that a valid exemption has been found. Currently, checks on exemptions are carried out by the pharmacist manually during dispensing and all patients saying they are exempt from prescription charging have to sign the declaration on the prescription form.

RTEC, which has been developed by NHS Digital and the NHS Business Services Authority, has been integrated and piloted in 40 pharmacies using a dispensing system supplied by Positive Solutions. It is now being expanded to other pharmacies in England that use this system, and other dispensing system providers are working towards using the RTEC service.

The pilot showed that an average of two minutes per request is saved when an exemption is confirmed digitally, which has so far saved over 4,500 hours of pharmacy staff time.

The service applies to prescriptions sent by the Electronic Prescription Service. Currently RTEC covers medical, maternity, low income scheme and tax credit exemptions, as well as prescription prepayment certificates. A pilot involving DWP benefit exemption checking is currently underway.

Alison O’Brien, head of exemption checking services at the NHS Business Services Authority, said: “Customers and pharmacists have told us they welcome an automated check being made in the pharmacy when claiming free prescriptions. We’re pleased that the pilot was such a success, and now more pharmacies and customers will be able to benefit from the advantages of real time checking.”