Consultation on proposals to rein in 'over the counter' products in England

Reporter:

Emily Davies

A public consultation on proposals to rein in prescriptions for some ‘over the counter’ products such as dandruff shampoo and drops for tired eyes continues.

NHS England hopes ending routine prescribing for minor, short-term conditions, many of which will cure themselves or cause no long-term effect on health, will free-up up to £136 million to expand other treatments for major conditions such as cancer and mental health problems.

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.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, said: “To do the best for our patients and for taxpayers it’s vital the NHS uses its funding well.

“This consultation gives the public the opportunity to help family doctors decide how best to deploy precious NHS resources, freeing-up money from the drugs bill to reinvest in modern treatments for major conditions such as cancer, mental health and emergency care.”

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

The NHS each year spends: £4.5 million on dandruff shampoos – enough to fund a further 4,700 cataract operations or 1,200 hip replacements every year; £7.5 million on indigestion and heartburn – enough to fund nearly 300 community nurses; £5.5 million 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.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, added: “Where patients can afford to buy medication over the counter, we would certainly encourage them to do so. There are also many minor, self-limiting conditions for which patients don’t often need to seek medical assistance, or prescribed medication, and can dealt with through self-care.

“What remains imperative – and we will be making this clear in our consultation response – is that no blanket bans are imposed, and GPs will retain the right to make clinical decisions about prescribing appropriately for our patients based on the unique physical, psychological and social factors potentially impacting on their health.”

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 other 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. The Board of NHS England approved the launch of a public consultation on these proposals at its public meeting on November 30.

The consultation and guidance document is available at www.engage.england.nhs.uk/consultation/over-the-counter-items-not-routinely-prescribed and runs until March 14.

Email:

emily.davies@nwn.co.uk

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