Should the NHS routinely prescribe medicines for minor and short-term ailments?

The four NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in Norfolk are asking for people’s views on whether they should stop routinely prescribing some everyday medicines which can be purchased from a pharmacist. 

They have launched a four-week period of public engagement to gather feedback from local people and stakeholders. This engagement exercise is now closed - the policy is being implemented.

Every year, the NHS in Norfolk spends more than £5 million on prescribing items for minor, short-lived ailments such as paracetamol, remedies for indigestion or heartburn, allergy treatments, vitamin supplements and cream for dry skin, items which are readily available over the counter from pharmacies and local shops.

Medicines to treat these short-term and minor ailments are inexpensive and are often available from shops or pharmacies. However, when provided on prescription, they cost the NHS significantly more. This is partly because of the cost of the medicines, but also includes GP time, dispensing time and fees, and processing.

Dr Dustyn Saint, GP at Long Stratton Medical Partnership and NHS South Norfolk CCG Governing Body Member said: “At a time when the NHS is facing huge financial pressures, we have to look at where we can best utilise every pound we spend on behalf of taxpayers. By asking patients to buy medications for minor ailments themselves we will be able to use the money for our core NHS services.

“The views of our patients and of the wider general public are very important to us and for this reason we are inviting people to share their views, comments and feedbacks with their local NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups via the surveys available.”

This engagement exercise coincides with ‘self-care’ week 2017. The NHS belongs to everybody and collectively we must ensure that its resources are used in the best possible way for all patients.

This is not just an issue of cost as a significant proportion of GP appointments, GP practice and community pharmacy time is taken up in processing prescriptions for minor ailments. Currently around 20 per cent of a GP’s time and 40 per cent of their total consultations are used for minor ailments and common conditions at a cost of on average £2 billion per year to the NHS.

Reducing the number of requests for every day medicines will free up GP time to focus on caring for higher risk patients, such as those with complex needs, the very young and elderly, managing long-term conditions and providing new services.

Where appropriate over the counter medicines will still be available at the GPs discretion if needed to treat a long-term condition for example.

Françoise Price, a pharmacist and medicines management lead for the CCGs, said: “There are times when over the counter medicines are required and advice can be sought from other trained health professionals including pharmacists. Pharmacists are a great source of knowledge in terms of medicines and treatments meaning you can get help and treatment quicker, easier and at a time that suits you.”

“To be clear, GPs will not stop prescribing any medications when they feel this is appropriate; our aim is to encourage patients to access healthcare advice and treatment from an appropriate healthcare professional (pharmacist) and to encourage patients to buy over the counter medicines that can be used to treat minor ailments rather than get them on prescription, and maintain a stock at home to take when they need it. Additionally, we’re not asking people to go without medication they need – those who need regular medication such as paracetamol and ibuprofen because of long term medical conditions will still be able to get them on an NHS prescription. GPs will still retain discretion for prescribing medication for high risk or vulnerable patients or where they suspect a patient might not be in a position to obtain the medication themselves.”

The public engagement will continue from Thursday 2nd November 2017 until Friday November 24th.