NHS England confirms cull of low-value treatments

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Fish oil, herbal remedies and homeopathy are among ‘low-value’ treatments that NHS England is recommending are no longer provided by the NHS, in a move it says should generate millions of pounds of savings each year.

Guidance will be issued to GPs and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to remove treatments considered ineffective, unsafe and of low clinical value, such as some dietary supplements herbal treatments and homeopathy, and restricting the use of a further 11, in a move that could save £141 million a year.

A separate consultation will also now be launched in the New Year on curbing prescriptions for some over the counter products such as paracetamol, sun creams, laxatives and eye drops, particularly regarding when exemptions may apply.

Reducing the number of prescriptions for minor, short-term conditions, many of which will cure themselves or cause no long term effect on health, could save the NHS around £190 million a year, NHS England said.

Also, the cull could free up millions of GP appointments currently taken up with prescribing these medicines, it noted.

“The NHS should not be paying for low value treatments and it’s right that we look at reducing prescriptions for medicines that patients can buy for a fraction of the price the NHS pays,” said NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens.

“We need to carry on having these honest open conversations on what the NHS can and should provide with the funding it has, so that we can continue to deliver high quality care,” added Dr Graham Jackson, NHSCC co-chair and clinical chair of NHS Aylesbury Vale CCG.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has welcomed the proposals to restrict prescribing of medicines “where there are safer or more effective alternatives to ensure the NHS can continue to gain best value from the medicines it funds”.

"However, we remain very concerned that the upcoming proposals on restricting prescribing of cost-effective and safe OTC medicines will end up exacerbating existing health inequalities and cause ill health amongst our most vulnerable and deprived communities, who cannot afford to pay for treatments.

"Such a move would also violate Principle 2 of the NHS Constitution, which clearly states that ‘Access to NHS services is based on clinical need, not an individual’s ability to pay' and would fundamentally alter the relationship between patients and the NHS,” argues RPS England Chair Sandra Gidley.

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