Prescription purge urged by NHS England

A FORMAL public consultation is being launched in England on new guidelines calling for 18 treatments – including homeopathy and herbal treatments – costing taxpayers £141 million a year to generally not be prescribed.

This proposal is part of detailed plans published by NHS England to cut out prescriptions for ineffective, over-priced and low value treatments.

The consultation also covers a further 3,200 prescription items readily available and sold ‘over the counter’ in pharmacies, supermarkets, petrol stations, corner shops and other retailers, often at a significantly lower price than the cost to the NHS. Initial action is proposed to limit prescribing of products for minor self-limiting conditions which currently cost taxpayers £50-100 million a year. The products include cough mixture and cold treatments, eye drops, laxatives and sun cream lotions.

NHS England is also supportive of restricting the availability of gluten-free foods on prescription and costing £26 million a year, which is currently subject to a Department of Health consultation.

Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, described homeopathy as “at best a placebo and a misuse of scarce NHS funds".

He added: "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. 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.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, commented: “We know that a number of treatments are of little or no value, and are at best a placebo. We also know many other medications are available very cheaply over the counter and are much more readily obtainable than when they first became available on prescription, and both GPs and the public should be mindful of this.

"If patients are in a position that they can afford to buy over the counter medicines and products, then we would encourage them to do so rather than request a prescription – but imposing blanket policies on GPs, that don’t take into account demographic differences across the country, or that don’t allow for flexibility for a patient’s individual circumstances, risks alienating the most vulnerable in society.”