NHS England has launched a consultation on proposals to cut back on prescriptions for some over-the-counter (OTC) products, such as dandruff shampoo and drops for tired eyes, in order to re-deploy around £136 million per year to frontline NHS services.

Prescribing of treatments for long-term (chronic) conditions, minor illnesses that are symptomatic, or the side effects of something more serious will not be affected by this consultation.

The consultation document provides a list of 33 minor illnesses, which have been identified by a national joint clinical working group as either self-limiting or suitable for self-care. NHS England and NHS Clinical Commissioners have worked closely with GPs, pharmacists and patient groups to develop and refine this list of conditions for which prescribing could be restricted, as well as where exceptions may apply.

Ending routine prescribing for minor, short-term conditions, such as dandruff, indigestion, mouth ulcers or travel sickness, which have no long-term effect on health and often resolve without treatment, could free up funds for frontline care.

The NHS each year spends:

  • £4.5m on dandruff shampoos – enough to fund a further 4,700 cataract operations or 1,200 hip replacements every year
  • £7.5m on indigestion and heartburn – enough to fund nearly 300 community nurses
  • £5.5m 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 can be purchased over-the-counter at a lower cost than the cost to 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 paracetamol is an average of four times as expensive when provided on prescription by the NHS.

If you would like to respond to the consultation, please visit the consultation document on the NHS England website.

Read the article in the PharmaTimes online here