AN NHS England review will consider introducing new national guidelines to reduce the prescribing of low value medicines which are "ineffective, unnecessary, inappropriate for prescription on the NHS".
NHS England will work with clinicians and clinical commissioning groups to develop guidelines initially around a set of 10 medicines which together cost the NHS £128m per year. It has pledged to seek the views of patient groups, clinicians, commissioners and providers across the NHS in developing the guidance.
Further work will consider other medicines deemed to be "relatively low clinical value or priority" or readily available "over the counter" and sometimes at far lower cost. These include treatments for self-limiting or minor conditions such as coughs and colds, as well as antihistamines, indigestion and heartburn medication and sun cream. Guidance will support CCGs in making decisions locally about what is prescribed on the NHS.
NHS England also states that "careful consideration will be given to ensure that particular groups of people are not disproportionately affected, and that principles of best practice clinical prescribing are followed".
The Royal College of General Practitioners has responded to the announcement by saying it is keen to work with NHS England on reducing prescription costs but warns against imposing blanket policies on GPs.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the RCGP, said: "Prescribing is a core skill in general practice and family doctors will always prescribe in the best interests of the patient in front of us, taking into account the combination of physical, psychological and social factors affecting their health.
"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 without a prescription - but this isn’t the case for everyone.
"Imposing blanket policies on GPs, that don’t take into account demographic differences across the country, or allowing flexibility for a patient’s individual circumstances, risks alienating the most vulnerable in society - and we will be seeking assurances from NHS England that this won't be the case."
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee deputy chair, also commented: "Rather than tinkering with the system there needs to be a fundamental review so that all patients are treated fairly, no matter where they live, and GPs are not placed in an unacceptable situation of being pressured to limit prescribing when their patient is requesting a prescription.
"In addition, any new scheme needs to be ensure that those who are eligible for free prescriptions should be able to obtain these products directly from the pharmacist rather than making an appointment with a GP."