Politics: NHS in bid to cut pounds 70m fraud

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MINISTERS will unveil a new NHS prescription form tomorrow to combat fraud, as the Government weathers the storm over its decision to increase prescription charges by 15p to a total pounds 5.80 per item.

The rise, revealed exclusively in yesterday's Independent, led to a backlash from patients' groups, health union leaders and the Liberal Democrats, and upset the Government's plans for spin-doctoring to defend the increase as a real-terms cut.

The new forms will contain a light-sensitive strip as an anti-fraud device in an attempt to stop an estimated pounds 70m a year trade in forged prescriptions.

Pharmacists are to be offered rewards for spotting the forgeries, but the fraud-busting measures will increase criticism that the prescription charge is too high and encourage other forms of dodging.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said the 2.7 per cent rise was less than inflation. "For the first time, the charge has fallen against inflation." He confirmed that ministers were actively looking at the possibility of restoring free eye-tests and free dental check-ups for the elderly to soften the impact.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Simon Hughes said: "Instead of taxing the sick, isn't it time the Government started trying to make them better?"

Peter Curphey, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: "This rise may well be small, but for some people it will be the final straw which will prevent them from obtaining the NHS treatment they need."