Tue, 2 May 2023 at 9:46 am BST
A woman who miscarried was fined by the NHS for claiming a free prescription while pregnant.
Sadie Hawkes, 33, lost her baby before she had received the maternity exemption certificate that entitled her to free prescriptions throughout her pregnancy.
Due to the pain and trauma of miscarrying, she didn’t attend her scheduled appointment with her midwife to collect the certificate.
Three months later, she was fined and charged the price of the medication.
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After explaining her situation to the NHS, she had to provide proof of pregnancy before the fine was withdrawn – but she is still required to pay the prescription charge.
Now she is promoting a petition to change the rules so that certificates can be backdated to the beginning of a pregnancy.
Ms Hawkes, from Leeds, Yorkshire, said: “I had a detailed conversation with the pharmacist who informed me my allergy tablets would be prescribed free of charge. But I miscarried, and never collected the maternity exemption certificate.
“Consequently, I was fined three months later, and while dealing with the pain of a miscarriage, I had to prove I was pregnant in the first place. It was horrible.”
Ms Hawkes discovered she was pregnant in September last year. She was thrilled, and looking forward to motherhood, but at nine weeks she started to experience problems.
The expectant mother went for scans at Airedale Hospital, and on February 19, she was told there was a possibility of a miscarriage.
After 12 hours in A&E and an overnight stay she received the devastating news she’d been dreading.
“Everything was fine for the first two months, then I started to have problems,” the veterinary nurse said. “Despite being originally told the baby was healthy, it turned out I’d miscarried. The next few weeks were hell – my whole world fell apart.”
Two weeks earlier, Ms Hawkes had an appointment with her local pharmacist who prescribed her allergy tablets on the NHS – on the grounds she was pregnant.
Under NHS rules, pregnancy does not qualify women in England for free prescriptions unless their midwife registers them for a maternity exemption certificate.
Pharmacists are legally required to request the certificate, so Ms Hawkes scheduled an appointment with her midwife to organise the paperwork.
But just before her appointment, she miscarried, and texted her midwife to inform she wouldn’t be attending.
Three months later she was ordered by the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) to pay a £46.75 fine plus the £9.35 prescription charge for the tablets.
“Getting that letter through the post saying I’d been fined was really upsetting,” she said. “I rang up the NHSBSA on the number on the letter to explain I’d miscarried, and the woman on the phone was like a robot – she was so cold and unemphatic.
“It was the worst phone call of my life. I subsequently had to call the doctors myself and prove that I was pregnant in the first place.
“The doctors printed off my notes, and emailed over the proof to the NHSBSA – who then said they’ll take the fine off, but I still owe the £9 prescription charge.”
Ms Hawkes is now promoting a petition to change the rules so that certificates can be backdated to the beginning of a pregnancy. She wants to reach 10,000 so the topic can be debated in parliament.
“After looking online, I found out what’s happened to me happened to 25,000 women last year, and around 200,000 in total,” she said. “The NHS is making money out of these fines, and people just pay them as they’re preoccupied.
“I want to change the law surrounding pregnancy exemption certificates, as one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, and this is a reoccurring problem.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said there are no plans to change the rules, although it “recognised” the stress of unexpected charges.
A spokesperson said: “Patients are responsible for ensuring they are claiming an entitlement to which they are eligible, and making a correct declaration on their prescription form.”
NHSBSA has now apologised to Ms Hawkes about how the situation was handled.
You can sign the petition here.