Guidance from NHS England has been published asking GPs not to normally prescribe medicines which can be bought over the counter. This guidance applies to all patients, including those who would be exempt from paying the prescription charge.
Why has this guidance been developed?
In the year prior to June 2017, the NHS spent approximately £569 million on prescriptions for medicines, which could otherwise be purchased over the counter (OTC) from a pharmacy and/or other outlets such as petrol stations or supermarkets.
These prescriptions include items for a condition:
- That is considered to be self-limiting and so does not need treatment as it will heal or be cured of its own accord;
- Which lends itself to self-care i.e. the person suffering does not normally need to seek medical advice and can manage the condition by purchasing OTC items directly
The costs to the NHS for many of the items used to treat minor conditions are often higher than the prices for which they can be purchased over the counter as there are hidden costs. 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 £3.00 after including dispensing fees. The actual total cost for the NHS is over £35 when you include GP consultation and other administration costs.
More cost-effective use of stretched NHS resources allows money to be spent where it is most needed, whilst improving patient outcomes. As an example, every £1m saved on prescriptions for over the counter treatments could fund (approx.):
- 39 more community nurses; or
- 270 more hip replacements; or
- 66 more drug treatment courses for breast cancer; or
- 1000 more drug treatment courses for Alzheimer’s; or
- 1040 more cataract operations.
If you are no longer prescribing over-the-counter medicines, where can I get these medicines from?
Medicines can be purchased from community pharmacies and / or supermarkets. These often have long opening times so you can get your medicines quickly and treat your condition early, rather than having to wait for a GP appointment. This also saves valuable GP time and your own time too – it is much quicker to pop into your local pharmacy than wait for a GP appointment.
The range of medicines available to buy is increasing and community pharmacists are experts who are best placed to give advice on the right product for you to use. You may find it helpful to keep a small supply of medicines at home for use, such as painkillers for headaches and remedies for colds and sore throats.
The NHS Choices website also contains a lot of useful information on a range of minor ailments (such as constipation, short-term pain, strains and sprains), which you can manage yourself. Please visit www.nhs.uk.
If your problem is more serious and needs the attention of a GP, your pharmacist will recognise this and advise you to see your GP.
I am being treated with these medicines for a long-term condition and taking them regularly, do I need to buy them?
People who need medicines for a long-term condition will still be able to get them with a prescription. This policy only applies to the use of medicines and products for short-term conditions. Your GP will continue to prescribe items you need for your long-term condition.
For example: Paracetamol for short-term pain relief and headaches should be purchased. Paracetamol used in the long-term management of chronic pain needing two tablets four times a day regularly, may be prescribed.
I have been to my pharmacist to buy a particular type of medicine but they will not sell it to me. What do I do?
There are some circumstances when pharmacists might not sell you a medicine. For
- When a product is not licensed for sale for your intended use
- When a product is not appropriate for you, or could cause you harm
- There are restrictions on the amount that can be sold and you are asking for too much of the product
If this happens, please speak to your GP and if they think you still need the item, they may
issue you with a prescription at their clinical discretion.
I have tried self-care with an OTC product but it has not helped. What should I do?
Please contact out patient services team who will arrange a GP or Nurse to call you or book an appointment.
If you have symptoms that suggest the condition is not minor e.g. indigestion with severe pain please contact the surgery.
Local Help Finder: www.sussexhelpmy.nhs.uk
Self-Care Advice: www.selfcareforum.org
NHS Choices: www.nhs.uk
OTC Summary Card
OTC 2018 Policy