NHS England has recently published guidance to free up to almost £100 million for frontline care each year by curbing prescriptions for ‘over the counter’ medicines for minor ailments such as those for hay fever and constipation.
Curbing routine prescribing for minor, short-term conditions, many of which will cure themselves or cause no long term effect on health, will free up NHS funds for frontline care.
The guidance will not affect prescribing of over the counter items for longer term or more complex conditions or where minor illnesses are symptomatic or a side effect of something more serious.
The NHS each year spends:
- £22.8 million on constipation – enough to fund around 900 community nurses
- £3 million on athlete’s foot and other fungal infections – enough to fund 810 hip ops
- £2.8 million on diarrhoea – enough to fund 2912 cataract operations
The new over the counter medicines guidance will curb the routine prescribing of products that are for:
- A self-limiting condition, which does not require any medical advice or treatment as it will clear up on its own, such as sore throats, coughs and colds
- A condition that is suitable for self-care, which can be treated with items that can easily be purchased over the counter from a pharmacy, such as indigestion, mouth ulcers and warts and verrucae.
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.
For Clinical Commissioning Groups across the North East and North Cumbria, a similar campaign has been running since mid-2017 and has shown some impressive savings. Over £850k has been saved on the prescribing of products for hay fever and simple pain relief in the region.
Dr Graham Syers, chair of the Regional Prescribing Forum said, “The scheme running across the North East and North Cumbria has already shown that savings can be made by not routinely prescribing for minor ailments that can be self-managed. When these kinds of savings are made across the whole country, the NHS will be able to invest more in those services that are most needed such as new cancer treatments and improvements to mental health services.”
Once CCGs have adopted the new guidance locally, it will apply to everyone who is not covered by the general or condition-specific exceptions listed in the guidance document. In relation to the exceptions, it is important to note:
- The guidance does not apply to people with long-term or more complex conditions who will continue to get their usual prescriptions.
- People who receive free prescriptions will not automatically be exempt from the guidance.
- For patients where the clinician considers that their ability to self-manage is compromised as a consequence of medical, mental health or significant social vulnerability; these patients will continue to receive prescriptions for over the counter items subject to the item being clinically effective.
More information, including a list of conditions that will no longer have treatment prescribed is available at the links below: