HEALTH AND CARE: Have your say on changes to medicines

Ending routine prescribing for minor, short-term conditions would free up NHS funds for frontline care
Ending routine prescribing for minor, short-term conditions would free up NHS funds for frontline care

The local NHS is calling for people to share their views as part of a national consultation on proposals to rein in prescriptions for some ‘over the counter’ products.

The proposed changes include treatments, such as dandruff shampoo and drops for tired eyes, to free up more than £136million to expand other treatments for major conditions.

Ending routine prescribing for minor, short-term conditions, many of which will cure themselves or cause no long-term effect on health, would free up NHS funds for frontline care.

In the year prior to June 2017, the NHS spent approximately £569million on prescriptions for medicines which can be purchased over the counter from a pharmacy and other outlets such as supermarkets. These prescriptions include items for a condition:

• That is considered to be self-limiting and so does not need treatment as it will heal of its own accord.

• Which lends itself to self-care – i.e. the person suffering does not normally need to seek medical care but may decide to seek help with symptom relief from a local pharmacy and use an over the counter medicine.

The consultation does not affect prescribing of items for longer term or more complex conditions or where minor illnesses are symptomatic or a side effect of something more serious.

Over-the-counter products currently prescribed include remedies for dandruff, indigestion, mouth ulcers and travel sickness.

Each year the NHS spends:

• £4.5million on dandruff shampoos – enough to fund a further 4,700 cataract operations or 1,200 hip replacements every year.

• £7.5million on indigestion and heartburn – enough to fund nearly 300 community nurses.

• £5.5million on mouth ulcers – enough to fund around 1,500 hip replacements.

If patients were to self-care for these three conditions alone, it would save the NHS £17.5 million allowing funds to be diverted to other areas.

Some of the products currently can be purchased over the counter at a lower cost than that which would be incurred by the NHS – for example, a pack of 12 anti-sickness tablets can be purchased for £2.18 from a pharmacy whereas the cost to the NHS is over £3 after including dispensing fees, and over £35 when you include GP consultation and administration costs.

Similarly some common tablets are on average four times more expensive when provided on prescription by the NHS.

NHS England and NHS Clinical Commissioners have worked closely with GPs, pharmacists and patient groups to develop and refine the list of conditions for which prescribing could be restricted, as well as where exceptions may apply.

It is important to be clear that no blanket bans are being imposed, and GPs will retain the right to make clinical decisions about prescribing appropriately for patients based on the their unique physical, psychological and social factors that may potentially impact on their health.

Some over the counter products currently prescribed are quickly and easily available in community pharmacies, where the public can also ask for an NHS consultation with a pharmacist if they are unsure about what treatment they need for minor illnesses and need clinical advice.

Face to face sessions and webinars have been arranged for members of the public to find out more about this work and ask any questions or raise concerns.

If you would like to have your say, you can read more and comment online: www.engage.england.nhs.uk

The closing date to share your views is March 14.

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