NHS England consults on curbing OTC prescriptions

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NHS England has launched a consultation on proposals to cut back on prescriptions for some over the counter products such as dandruff shampoo and drops for tired eyes, in order to garner savings of £136 million.

The group says money saved from calling time on routine prescriptions for minor, short-term conditions, could be streamed into expanding access to other treatments for major conditions such as cancer and mental health problems.

Potentially up for the chop are OTC medicines with a low clinical value and where there is a lack of robust evidence for clinical effectiveness, such as probiotics, vitamins and minerals, those to treat conditions considered to be self-limiting, in that they will heal of their own accord, such as sore throats or colds, and conditions that could be managed by self-care, such as indigestion, mouth ulcers and pain relief.

Currently, every year the NHS spends: £4.5 million on dandruff shampoos, which could fund a further 4,700 cataract operations or 1,200 hip replacements every year; £7.5 million on indigestion and heartburn, which could pay for nearly 300 community nurses; and £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 that could be diverted elsewhere, NHS England noted.

“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,” said NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens.

“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,” stressed Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs.

NHS England said earlier this month that it will be issuing guidance 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.

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