NHS England has launched a consultation inviting GPs, clinical commissioning groups, patients and members of the public to comment on whether low-cost items that can be purchased over the counter for common minor ailments should remain available on prescription. The cost to the NHS for items like basic painkillers and eyedrops is estimated at £136m a year.

The consultation paper, ‘Conditions for which over the counter items should not routinely be prescribed in primary care’, is open online until 14 March and lists 33 minor health concerns – ranging from mild pain in connection to headaches, period pain, aches and sprains, to dry skin, coughs and colds – that have been identified as likely to heal or cure themselves without medical treatment and can be self-managed by the patient at home.

Also on the list are vitamins/minerals and probiotics – classed as items of low clinical effectiveness - which cost the NHS £49.2m last year alone. By reducing spend on treating conditions that are self-limiting or which lend themselves to self-care, NHS England reasons that the money saved can be used for other higher priority areas that have ‘a greater impact for patients, support improvements in services and help deliver transformation that will ensure the long-term sustainability of the NHS.’

Kevin Solomons, Pharmacist and Head of Medicines Management for Surrey Downs CCG said: “A prescription for a pack of 12 x travel sickness pills through a GP appointment costs the NHS over £35 when you add in consultation time and admin costs, compared to £2.18 in pharmacies and supermarkets. This public consultation asks people to consider whether they believe this is the right use of resources and whether they think they could manage certain minor conditions at home using products they can buy cheaply over the counter.”

Linda Honey, Head of Medicines Management for North West Surrey CCG added: “This isn’t a major problem for Surrey CCGs as people are generally very happy to manage common health complaints like cold sores, dandruff and athlete’s foot at home and our annual spend is among the lowest regionally. However, I’m sure many people would be surprised to know that 87% of national spend is associated with just five groups of drugs* that can be bought much more cheaply in supermarkets and pharmacies.

“What this consultation reminds us is that we all need to be mindful when asking our doctor to prescribe things like vitamins and eyedrops, and think whether in fact we need to visit our GP when local community pharmacists can offer clinical advice on a wide range of healthcare issues. If symptoms suggest it’s more serious, they can ensure you get the help you need at the right time, from the right place.”

For more information and to give your views as part of the consultation, click here.

Alternatively, email your views to your local CCG:

Guildford and Waverley: gwccg.info@nhs.net

North West Surrey: contactus.nwsurreyccg@nhs.net

Surrey Downs: contactus.surreydownsccg@nhs.net   

The consultation closes Wednesday 14 March 2018.

For more information on how pharmacies can help with minor health concerns visit www.nhs.uk/staywellpharmacy