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New consultation launched on guidance for over-the-counter medicines

NHS England and NHSCC have today launched a consultation on commissioning guidance for over the counter medications that should not be routinely prescribed in primary care.

The consultation forms part of their work to identify areas of NHS spending that could be better utilised elsewhere.

This work aims to save up to £136m on prescriptions for medicines to treat “minor conditions,” which could be spent in high priority areas, such as primary care and mental health.

The prescriptions include items for a condition which will pass without treatment which lends itself to self-care, or items that can be purchased over the counter, sometimes at a lower cost than would be incurred by the NHS or where there is little evidence of clinical effectiveness.

Dr. Graham Jackson, co-chair of the NHSCC explained: “This consultation is an important part of the ongoing work we are doing on behalf of local clinical commissioning groups alongside NHS England to ensure the NHS budget is spent effectively to deliver the best possible patient care and to encourage more people to self-care.”

He also emphasised the importance of an honest conversation with the public, patients and clinicians about what the NHS can provide with its “constrained funds.”

Chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, added: “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.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), explained that prescription costs are a “significant expense” for the NHS, and “sensible measures” to reduce these costs should be taken where possible.

She said: “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.”

Stokes-Lampard added: “What remains imperative – and we will be making this clear in our consultation response - is that no blanket bans are imposed, and GPs will retain the right to make clinical decisions about prescribing appropriately for our patients based on the unique physical, psychological and social factors potentially impacting on their health.”

The list has been developed based on responses to the previous consultation on items which should not be routinely prescribed in primary care.

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