NHS to save £136m by ‘curbing’ prescription costs

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NHS England has proposed plans to stop prescriptions for some over-the-counter products, in an effort to free up £136 million for other treatment areas.

A public consultation will take place to help determine whether many routine prescriptions, such as those for dandruff shampoos and drops for tired eyes, should no longer be provided on the NHS. Cost-savings would be put towards other frontline services including cancer care and mental health.

Current annual prescription costs for over-the-counter products include:

  • £4.5 million on dandruff shampoos
  • £7.5 million on indigestion and heartburn medication
  • £5.5 million on medication to treat mouth ulcers.

The combined savings provided by ‘curbing’ these costs could potentially fund 4,700 cataract operations, 2,700 hip replacements and nearly 300 community nurses.

Chief Executive of NHS England, 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.’

Many of the products to be discussed in the public consultation are used to treat self-limiting, minor ailments. However, plans will not affect the prescribing of these products in patients require that them to treat a symptom or side-effect of a more serious condition.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, noted that prescription costs are a ‘significant expense’ for the health service and that efforts to reduce these costs, where appropriate, should be carried forward.

‘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.’

Prof Stoke-Lampard emphasized that ‘blanket bans’ should not be imposed, as GPs must have the flexibility to make clinical decisions about prescribing based on individual patient needs.