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24.07.17

NHSE to stop prescribing homeopathic treatments in £190m savings drive

A new action plan to reduce the amount of wasteful and ineffective drug prescriptions, which could save the health service over £190m a year, has been launched by NHS England.

The scheme could see 18 treatments, including homeopathy and herbal treatments – which cost taxpayers £141m a year – no longer prescribed for patients.

The public will be able to answer a consultation into the plans and share their views with NHS England and the Department of Health.

NHS England boss Simon Stevens had strong words for the homeopathic area when the consultation was launched, arguing that it was “at best a placebo and a misuse of scarce NHS funds”.

The consultation also discusses a further 3,200 prescription items, of which many are already sold over the counter and are readily available for patients.

It comes after NHS England stated in March that it would no longer prescribe low-value medicines which are easily available over the counter, such as antihistamines and sunscreen.

The consultation proposes initial action to limit prescribing of products for minor self-limiting conditions, such as cough mixtures and cold treatments that could yield savings of £50m to £100m a year.

“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,” Stevens said. “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.”

And Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s outgoing medical director, said: “At a time when we need to find all the money we can for new, highly effective drugs we must ensure every pound is spent wisely.

“An honest, plain English conversation is required about what we should fund and what we should not. We need to end unnecessary expense to give us a bigger therapeutic bang for the NHS buck so we cut the fat and build the therapeutic muscle.”

Dr Graham Jackson, GP, NHS Clinical Commissioners co-chair, also argued that the NHS’ ability to provide high-quality care would be reduced if it can’t prioritise areas that will result in the best outcomes for patients, while at the same time getting the best value for money.

“We need to have an honest conversation with the public, patients and clinicians on what the NHS should provide and this consultation around the medicines spend – an area with the potential to unlock huge resource – is an important part of that,” he added.  

“We now hope to hear from as many people and organisations as possible so that the final guidance can properly take these views into account and result in our member CCGs being given national support in prioritising medicines and services that makes the best use of the NHS pound.”

Patients raise concern with plans

However, patients have voiced concern that the changes could lead to a reduced availability of certain drugs, and mean that some patients will not be able to afford vital medicine.

“We are concerned that, while NHS England has kept us informed of its work, it has developed these proposals without any input from patients,” said Rachel Power, the new chief executive of the Patients Association. “There will be some patients for whom these drugs represent the least worst option, taking their needs overall into account. Doctors will still be able to prescribe them.

“We will work with NHS England to ensure they hear patients’ views, and help with their communications to patients. We would have liked to be able to do this before the proposals were finalised.”

Power also stated that the consultation’s approach to over-the-counter medicines had “set hares running”.

“While it might make little sense for the NHS to pay pounds for medication that the individual can buy for pence, there will be people who would struggle to afford even that, and others whose long-term conditions will mean that even regular small payments would represent a large long-term cost,” she explained.

“This debate needs to be much more firmly rooted in the question of how these anomalous charges can be minimised in a system that is free at the point of use.

“We must not end up in a situation where individual doctors have to decide whether to give someone a prescription or send them away to buy a medicine themselves.”

 

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