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Paper prescriptions are fast becoming a thing of the past, with the majority of prescriptions now signed, sent and processed electronically

If you take medication on a regular basis and your condition is stable, your GP may be able to offer a long-term repeat prescription.

For many patients, paper prescriptions are a thing of the past. In England they were phased out in 2019. Electronic prescriptions have been available in Scotland for many years. There are also plans to introduce them in Wales and Northern Ireland in the coming years.

When the move was announced in England it was reported that it would save the NHS £300 million over two years and make the process more convenient for patients and save staff time.

The majority of prescriptions are now signed, sent and processed electronically.

You can choose a pharmacy to dispense all your prescriptions. After a  prescription is issued to you, it is sent electronically to the dispenser you have selected. This enables you to collect your medicines or appliances without having to hand in a paper prescription. Patients can also choose to receive a paper prescription with a digital barcode.

Medical information is held on a secure database which allows a patient’s medication to be accessed by GPs and pharmacies. Instead of using a physical signature, patients digitally sign and cancel electronic prescriptions.

Patients can change or cancel their choice of dispenser at any time. They can speak to their GP or pharmacist before ordering their next prescription.

Patients are able to collect repeat prescriptions from a pharmacy without visiting their GP. They also won’t be able to lose their prescription as would be the case if it was paper!

How it works

If a prescriber – for example, doctor or practice nurse – thinks a patient would benefit from receiving electronic repeat prescriptions for their regular medicines, they will ask them for permission to share information about their treatment with their pharmacist.

A number of electronic repeat prescriptions will then be authorised based on the patient’s circumstances and clinical need. The pharmacy will then supply the prescriptions to the patient on a regular basis.

The patient collects their first electronic repeat prescription from the pharmacy, returning when more medicines are needed. 

Before dispensing the next issue of the prescription, the pharmacy will ask some questions. They will include if the patient has seen any health professionals since the last repeat prescription was supplied. Has the patient recently started taking any new medicines? Have they experienced any problems with their medication or noticed any side-effects? Are there any items on the repeat prescription that the patient doesn’t need this month?

It is important for patients to let pharmacy staff know if they don’t need all of the medicines on the prescription. This will help to reduce waste and save the NHS money.

When the final electronic repeat prescription in the series is supplied by the pharmacy, the patient will be asked to contact their GP practice. The practice may want to review the patient’s medication before more electronic repeat prescriptions are authorised. 

The majority of prescriptions are now signed, sent and processed electronically

Prescription charges

If you’re based in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales you’ll know no one has to pay a prescription charge. However, residents who live in England and who also have an English GP are charged a set amount per prescription at the time of writing, unless they’re exempt. 

Your local pharmacy can offer advice if you feel you shouldn’t be paying for prescriptions, however fraudulently claiming when you’re not in fact eligible can land you in trouble – and include Penalty Charge Notices to pay. 

While some pharmacies may have a Real Time Exemption Checking system in place, it’s always better to play it safe and pay if you don’t have any form of exemption certificate to hand. 

Some people are exempt from paying for prescriptions. Here are some of the main categories:

Maternity

If you’re currently pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months then you will be exempt from paying. You’ll need to have a valid Maternity Exemption (MATEX) certificate with you when picking up your medicine.

Age: You’re entitled to free NHS prescriptions if you’re: Under 16, aged 16-18 and in full time education, aged 60 or over

*This information is accurate at the time of going to press. The government is consulting on changes to age eligibility for free prescriptions.

Age

You’re entitled to free NHS prescriptions if you’re: Under 16, aged 16-18 and in full time education, aged 60 or over.

If your date of birth is printed electronically on your prescription, you don’t need to provide proof of your age when claiming free prescriptions. Have your birth certificate, passport or medical card with you as proof when visiting the pharmacy.

*This information is accurate at the time of going to press. The government is consulting on changes to age eligibility for free prescriptions.

Benefits

You are automatically entitled to free NHS prescriptions if you’re included in an award for: Income Support; Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; Income-related Employment and Support Allowance

If you’re getting one of these benefits, your partner and any dependent young people under 20 are also entitled to free NHS prescriptions.

Tax credits

You are entitled to free NHS prescriptions if your annual family income used to work out your tax credits is £15,276 or less and you receive either: Child Tax Credit; Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit paid together; Working Tax Credit including a disability element.

Low income

You can get free NHS prescriptions if you have a valid HC2 certificate. They are issued to people who qualify for full help with health costs through the NHS Low Income Scheme.

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