New plans intended to prevent GPs from prescribing drugs available over the counter, with the intention of saving the healthcare system in the region of £200 million, could deny vulnerable patients critical access to medication.
This is the view of some of the most prominent doctors working within the healthcare system.
NHS England had previously announced a plan to “drive out wasteful and ineffective drug prescriptions”.
But a consultation on the new scheme suggests that it will have minimal clinical value, while saving an absolutely trivial amount of money for the taxpayer.
The consultation called for homoeopathy to be phased out, while there should also be limits on prescribing drugs for minor self-limiting conditions, such as cough mixtures, cold treatments, eye drops, laxatives and sun creams.
But both GP leaders and patient charities have been critical of the new policy.
Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive, had launched the scheme, praising the NHS for its efficiency, but also indicating that more must be done to improve this aspect of the healthcare system.
“The NHS is probably the world’s most efficient health service, but like every country there is still waste and inefficiency that we’re determined to root out. The public rightly expects that the NHS will use every pound wisely, and today we’re taking practical action to free up funding to better spend on modern drugs and treatments.”
Yet Dr Andrew Green, GPC prescribing lead, suggested that the new policy could be discriminatory.
“GPs have a contractual duty to prescribe drugs that their patients need, and pressure must not be placed on them to act in a way that may contravene those regulations. Where there are clinical reasons that drugs should not be provided on the NHS, such as for co-proxamol or homeopathic substances, then these should be added to the “blacklist” which formally prevents NHS supply.”
And Don Redding, director of policy at National Voices, also asserted that financial circumstances must be taken into consideration.
“Whilst some treatments are available to purchase over-the-counter, that does not mean that everyone can afford them. The risk is that the NHS would be saying that it will not support poor people to treat their kids’ head lice, or to manage complications such as persistent constipation or the vulnerability of their skin to damaging sunlight.”
Redding went on to query the way that procurement is being conducted.
“NHS England point out that some of these treatments can be bought over-the-counter at a cheaper price than the NHS can prescribe them. That raises questions about NHS procurement and negotiations with industry. It is not a problem to pass on to the poorest patients.”