A pharmacist using a laptop

National expansion of Real Time Exemption Checking service for prescriptions

An NHS electronic system which enables pharmacies to immediately check if a patient is eligible for free prescriptions is being rolled out nationally.

The Real Time Exemption Checking (RTEC) service lets the pharmacy team see if a patient needs to pay for their prescription when it is dispensed, saving time and helping patients claim free prescriptions correctly. Currently, checks on exemptions are carried out by the pharmacist manually during dispensing.

RTEC, which has been developed by NHS Digital and the NHS Business Services Authority, has been integrated and piloted in 40 pharmacies using a dispensing system supplied by Positive Solutions. It is now being expanded to other pharmacies in England that use this system, and other dispensing system providers are working towards using the RTEC service.

The introduction of RTEC will mean that patients can:

  • Be sure they’re definitely exempt from paying for their prescription
  • Save money if they didn’t know they were entitled to free prescriptions
  • Spend less time at the counter checking whether they’re exempt from paying

RTEC is helping the NHS become more efficient by making sure free prescriptions can be validated easily in the pharmacy. An average of two minutes per request is saved when an exemption is confirmed digitally, which has so far saved over 4,500 hours of pharmacy staff time.

The service applies to prescriptions sent by the Electronic Prescription Service. Currently RTEC covers medical, maternity, low income scheme and tax credit exemptions, as well as prescription prepayment certificates. A pilot involving DWP benefit exemption checking is also underway.

Alison O’Brien, Head of Exemption Checking Services at the NHS Business Services Authority, said: “Customers and pharmacists have told us they welcome an automated check being made in the pharmacy when claiming free prescriptions. We’re pleased that the pilot was such a success, and now more pharmacies and customers will be able to benefit from the advantages of real time checking.”

Ian Lowry, Director of Product Development at NHS Digital, said: “It is great to be able to build on the success of electronic prescription service in this way, improving the service for patients and driving efficiencies in prescription processing.”

The service is now being rolled out to more pharmacies, and other dispensing system suppliers are expected to develop their RTEC systems throughout the year.

Contact Information

Katy Edgar

Senior Media and Campaigns Officer

NHS Business Services Authority


Notes to editors

  1. RTEC allows pharmacy teams to digitally check if patients are eligible for free prescriptions when dispensing medication. The system uses the patient’s NHS number, names, date of birth and postcode to conduct the check. The patient’s status will display that they are ‘exempt’, or ‘unknown’ if no exemption is found. Patients will no longer be required to sign the declaration if the system shows that a valid exemption has been found.
  2. Patients can go to uk/checkbeforeyoutick and use a free online exemption checking service to see if they’re eligible for help with their NHS health costs.
  3. Patients who receive an exemption under Universal Credit are currently not included in the pilot.
  4. The Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) enables prescriptions to be sent electronically to a dispenser nominated by the patient. The service is currently being rolled out across England.
  5. Find out more about the benefits of RTEC for pharmacists here

The NHS Business Services Authority is an Arm’s Length Body of the Department of Health and Social Care which provides a range of critical central services to NHS organisations, NHS contractors, patients and the public. Its purpose is to be a catalyst for better health and its vision is to be the delivery partner of choice for the NHS. For more information about the NHSBSA, please visit www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk.

NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner of the health and care system.  Our team of information analysis, technology and project management experts create, deliver and manage the crucial digital systems, services, products and standards upon which health and care professionals depend. During the 2018/19 financial year, NHS Digital published 265 statistical reports. Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better.