George Freeman outlines measures to waive penalties for late renewal of medical exemption certificates

13th October 2015
George Freeman responds to back bench MPs’ questions on the renewal of medical exemption certificates and consistency of services and treatment within the NHS.
 

Medical Exemption Certificates

10. Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): What plans he has to review renewal arrangements for the issuing of NHS medical exemption certificates. [901466]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences (George Freeman): 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.
 
Paul Maynard: 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 Because the renewal period is five years long, the NHS Business Services Authority’s address database gets out of date very quickly and many people have been penalised for inadvertently not renewing their certificate because the database held an out-of-date address for them.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?
 
George Freeman: 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.
 
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): 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?
 
George Freeman: 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.
 

NHS: Consistency in Services and Treatment

14. Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): What steps he is taking to ensure consistency in services and treatment throughout the NHS. [901470]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences (George Freeman): The mandate for NHS England sets out our national ambitions for the health service across England. NHS England and the clinical commissioning groups are responsible for working with local providers. To ensure quality and consistency, the Care Quality Commission has developed a set of fundamental standards. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence also provides a range of guidance and quality standards, and the Department of Health has established the MyNHS website to highlight regional variations and use transparency to drive improvement across the system.
 
Tom Pursglove: I thank the Minister for that answer, but earlier this year figures published by Public Health England showed that more people under the age of 75 die from cancer in Corby than anywhere else in England. What steps are Ministers taking to help to improve those rates? They are stubbornly high, and we need to stop the higher prevalence of cancer in our area.
 
George Freeman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government are absolutely committed to world-class cancer care, which is why we put £1 billion into the cancer drugs fund. We have seen a huge 71% increase in cancer referrals, with 40,000 more patients treated, and a new cancer strategy has just been set out. It is true that the incidence of cancer in my hon. Friend’s constituency is regrettably high, and Corby CCG has significantly worse cancer outcomes. That has been recognised and the 2015-16 commissioning plan puts in place a series of measures on cancer, including improving earlier diagnosis, providing treatment within 62-day referral targets and implementing the national cancer survivorship programme.
 
Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Creswell in my constituency of Bolsover has been trying to get a health service centre, but that small ex-pit village has been unable to get it because NHS Property Services has been arguing with the CCG and others within the national health service. Despite efforts and letters to Ministers, the village is still waiting for the health service that it has been trying to get ever since this Secretary of State got his job under the coalition. If Ministers want some consistency throughout the land, they should give that deprived ex-pit village a new health service: knock some heads together and get it done.
 
George Freeman: It is a pleasure to take my first question from the hon. Gentleman. I thought I needed my ears cleaning, but I clearly do not. I will happily talk to him about the issue in his constituency, but the truth is that local CCGs are responsible for commissioning local services. I will happily, as a Health Minister, talk to him about what needs to be done.
 
 

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