Patients face fine in curb on prescription fraud

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A crackdown on prescription fraud to save the NHS pounds 100m a year was announced by the Government yesterday. Patients who evade the pounds 5.60 prescription charge will be liable to a fixed penalty fine and a new criminal offence will be introduced for doctors, pharmacists or others who cheat the system. Alan Milburn, the Minister for Health, said the scale of the losses, revealed by a government efficiency scrutiny, was staggering - enough to pay for 14,500 heart bypass operations or 6,500 kidney transplants.

In a few cases doctors and pharmacists had invented non-existent patients. In one case in Leeds a doctor and a pharmacist had made about pounds 1m. Anti- counterfeiting devices are to be introduced into the printing of prescription forms and a reward scheme set up for pharmacies that detect stolen forms. Mr Milburn said: "This government is not prepared to tolerate this kind of law-breaking in the NHS ... Those who are currently defrauding the health service and the taxpayer should be under no illusion. We will find you and we will punish you."