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31.05.16

Call for greater access to over-the-counter medicines to relieve pressures on NHS

Medicines for minor illnesses should be made more easily accessible in order to reduce the number of patients seeking NHS treatment, according to a new white paper from the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The paper, ‘Consumer health: time for a regulatory re-think?’, argues that the regulatory framework for over-the-counter medicines, which is currently based on the framework for prescription medicines, needs to be revised in order to make it easier for patients to access over-the-counter medicines and relieve pressures on the system elsewhere.

In the UK, one in five primary care consultations involve minor ailments, at a cost to the NHS of £1bn and over an hour a day for every GP, and over 90% of those patients are given a prescription.

Recent figures from the King’s Fund show that general practice in the UK is under unprecedented strain, with the number of consultations increasing by 15% in 2010-15, but the workforce has increased by just 4.75%.

Zephanie Jordan, vice-president of global regulatory affairs at health and hygiene company RB, said: “There is a clear and apparent need for a people-centred approach to OTC [over the counter] regulation. We believe it’s our responsibility to drive discussion on this topic and foster change.

“Until self-care is taken seriously at a national and international health and medicines policy level it will be difficult to break down many of the barriers to make self-care more accessible. We would like to see a system with the objective of designing the minimum necessary regulation to promote self-care while protecting people’s safety.”

RB, which owns brands including Strepsil, Nurofen and Lysol, co-sponsored the white paper, along with the Proprietary Association of Great Britain.

John Smith, CEO of the Proprietary Association, said: “In addition to the economic benefits, self-care is what people want. With improved health literacy and support from pharmacists, self-care can result in healthier populations, stronger workforces and more sustainable health systems. Governments need to do more to implement self-care policy and promote positive behaviour change.”

The white paper recommends that governments, including in the UK, should build self-care into national health policy and design the minimum necessary regulation to promote self-care while protecting patient safety.

In 2014, NHE interviewed Susan Swientozielskyj, head of long term conditions in the Nursing Directorate for NHS England, and a board member of the Self Care Forum, about the role of self care in the NHS.

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