SCOTLAND'S family doctors are set to join their colleagues throughout

the UK in opposing Government plans to involve them in an attempt to

crack down on prescription fraud.

The British Medical Association has confirmed that its GPs' committee

is expected soon to tell Health Minister Gerry Malone that GPs will not

co-operate with proposals intended to make the detection of prescription

fraud easier and cheaper.

The Department of Health says that only about 30% of patients have to

pay for prescriptions, but despite this low proportion, abuse of the

system is commonplace. The Government says prescription fraud is costing

the Exchequer about #30m a year.

The current #4.75 prescription charge raises #280m a year towards the

annual NHS drugs bill.

Health Ministers hope that family doctors can be persuaded to provide

information to help reduce fraud.

But Dr John Garner, BMA (Scotland) general medical services committee

chairman, said he was concerned at the plans to involve GPs in such a


He made his comments ahead of claims made today in the association's

magazine, BMA News Review, that the NHS executive is considering

introducing bar codes on prescription forms.

The magazine claims the scheme is part of Health Secretary Virginia

Bottomley's crackdown on prescription fraud, announced earlier this

month at the Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth.

The BMA claims the bar codes would include a record of certain patient

details such as age and reasons for exemption to help verify claims for

free medicines.

The association believes that it could lead to widespread breaches of

patient confidentiality and destroy the doctor-patient relationship if

it is not properly monitored and run.

Dr Ian Banks, a member of the BMA general medical services committee,

told the magazine: ''People are talking about including date of birth

and past medical history. That moves into the area of medical

confidentiality because the information would be going to Government

agencies, not just pharmacists.''

Dr Garner was not aware of the bar code proposal when contacted

yesterday although he did know of Mrs Bottomley's proposed crackdown on

prescription fraud.

He said: ''We are not condoning fraud in any way. However, our job is

to be the patient's advocate to get the best quality of health care from

the NHS, not to be seen as DSS policemen who decide on whether patients

are entitled to free prescriptions or not.''

A Department of Health spokesman in London would not be drawn on

whether the bar code proposal was likely to be implemented.

''We are still considering how we can take this matter forward and

will be looking at a number of different options to ensure that the

estimated #30m worth of prescription fraud is curtailed,'' he said.