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Medical Exemption Certificates

Volume 600: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2015

Medical exemption certificates excluding patients with long-term conditions have been in place since the 1960s. The requirement to renew the certificate every five years has been in place since at least 2002 and we have no plans to review it.

The Minister will be aware that, over the summer, there has been media coverage of patients with ongoing and exempt conditions being penalised for not having an up-to-date exemption certificate. Because the renewal period is five years long, the NHS Business Services Authority’s address database gets out of date very quickly and many people have been penalised for inadvertently not renewing their certificate because the database held an out-of-date address for them. What more can be done to assist the authority and the patients, perhaps by introducing a shorter renewal period, and to ensure that this stops occurring?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has first-hand experience of this matter. It is true that people who are responsible for ensuring that they hold a certificate when claiming the exemption could be subject to genuine mistakes. That is why we responded to the feedback this summer and put measures in place so that if someone submits a valid medical exemption certificate within 60 days of a penalty charge notice, the penalty charge will be cancelled. It is also worth remembering that all patients on benefits or on the NHS low income scheme are exempt anyway, and that patients who require frequent prescriptions can enrol for a pre-payment certificate, which costs no more than £100 a year.

There are 3.3 million diabetics in this country, including myself, who are entitled to these certificates. This is not special pleading, but the issue is that when they come to renew they do need help. As the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) has said, it is difficult for them to fill in some of these forms. Will the Minister ensure that local GP practices are able to help people if they need assistance in filling in these forms?

I will happily look into that specific issue, discuss it with the right hon. Gentleman and see whether there is anything we need to do.