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Digital maternity exemptions: giving time back

Hi, my name is Amy and I’m a product owner working on digital improvement in the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA).

We’re responsible for administering the Maternity Exemption scheme, which entitles pregnant and new mothers to free NHS prescriptions. I’d like to tell you about some new and exciting changes we’ve made to digitise this service.

We can do this better

We knew there were problems with the original paper applications for Maternity Exemption (Matex) certificates. A paper FW8 form has to be filled in and countersigned by a midwife or other healthcare professional. There can sometimes be delays in the forms being sent to us, which causes problems for mums when they try to pick up their prescriptions.

And let’s not forget the legibility issues which come part and parcel with processing handwritten forms… Mothers could end up waiting up to two weeks after applying to receive a plastic card in the post! We also had to consider the environmental impacts of issuing over 400k plastic cards per year.

A digital solution to these problems was clearly needed.

Meeting the needs of mums and midwives

We began our journey the way we always do when we design a new digital service: we talk to our users. We met with mothers and midwives to find out what they needed.

Mothers wanted a quick result with minimal administrative effort on their part. Midwives wanted the task to fit in with their busy schedules, as well as having the peace of mind that their patient would get their free prescriptions without disruption or delay.

The first version of the digital Matex service went live in January 2017. It allowed midwives and other healthcare professionals to quickly fill in an online application for their patient to receive an exemption certificate, which could be done during a booking-in appointment with the mother present. The digital service provided the ability for mums to receive a digital certificate instantly to her mobile phone, which she could use straight away to collect prescriptions.

Brilliant benefits

Since then, the service has grown. We’ve got over 2,000 midwives and other healthcare professionals signed up to issue certificates digitally. We’re now receiving almost 20% of exemption applications digitally, with 30,000 mums getting an instant digital exemption!

One of the fantastic benefits of this service is that it saves the NHS money; a digital service costs less to run than a paper-based manual one. We’ve also now completely removed plastic exemptions from this service. What we hear most from midwives, though, is how quick and easy the service is to use. But don’t just take my word for it…

“I think the online service for the maternity exemption is wonderful. The fact that we can submit the forms for our expectant mums is great. It cuts out the problems some of our patients have with low levels of literacy or not having English as their first language. And it’s quicker than doing the paper forms.”

“Was very easy to use and completing it in front of the mother helped.”

Feedback like this is great, but we’re far from the end of our journey!

Help us grow the service

We need your help to grow and improve the service further – by the end of this year we’d like to be receiving 45% of our applications digitally. You can find out more information about the service and how to register by visiting the NHSBSA website.

Remember: if you add an email address to the mother’s application, she can receive her digital certificate instantly rather than waiting for one to come in the post!

If you have any feedback on using the digital service or would like to help promote the service further to your colleagues, please get in touch with me at – I’d love to hear your thoughts!