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Health commissioners urge patients to self care as they approve plans to limit prescriptions of over the counter medicines for minor ailments

Health commissioners in South Nottinghamshire have approved plans to limit prescriptions for over the counter medicines (such as ibuprofen and paracetamol) for minor ailments, coming into effect from Wednesday 1 March 2017.

From the patient’s perspective these plans mean that over the counter (OTC) products like paracetamol and antihistamines will no longer be prescribed for short-term, self-limiting conditions. In these instances, patients will be encouraged to buy their own from their local chemist or supermarket.

The three South Nottinghamshire NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (Nottingham North and East, Nottingham West, and Rushcliffe) recently undertook a six-week patient and stakeholder engagement campaign to ask people whether these medicines should be prescribed for minor ailments, such as a cold, headache, sore throat, hay fever etc.

Rather than visiting their GP, most people can take care of themselves when they have a minor ailment through a combination of self care and OTC medicines, which can be bought in supermarkets, shops or pharmacies.

Currently, GPs can prescribe OTC medicines to patients for minor ailments, but it is significantly more expensive for them to do so.

The total cost of prescribing OTC medicines for Nottingham North and East (NNE), Rushcliffe and Nottingham West (NW) CCGs in 2015 was £1,966,265. The CCGs estimate that by limiting prescriptions for OTC medicines for minor ailments across the three areas, they can deliver a saving of around £196,626.

During the course of the consultation, the CCGs received 403 responses from patients, public and professionals across South Nottinghamshire, and also ran seven public events across the South Nottinghamshire area.

On the whole, the patient engagement responses indicated that patients were comfortable with the proposal.

The majority of respondents (87 per cent) said the proposal wouldn’t affect their self care of a minor ailment at all. Eighty five percent said it wouldn’t affect their access at all and 75 per cent even said it wouldn’t even affect their long-term condition.

Where there were concerns, they were particularly focussed on the following issues:

  • Vulnerable patients who may not be able to access OTC medicines
  • Ensuring patients with long-term conditions can continue to get access to OTC medicines they need to help them manage their condition

 We have taken these concerns into consideration. There are no plans to limit medicines for people with long-term conditions and GPs will be able to prescribe in other circumstances of clinical need.

Local GP and Nottingham North and East CCG’s Clinical Lead Dr James Hopkinson says: “Providing small quantities of over the counter medicines on prescription for minor ailments is not an effective use of funds. When these medicines are prescribed, we incur extra charges through dispensing and administrative fees, and if you include GP time then the costs are even higher.

“We’ve engaged with patients and we’re pleased that they largely support us making these changes. Basically what we are saying is that patients should not expect their GP to prescribe these medicines and products going forwards for short term illnesses, unless the GP deems there is a clinical need to do so.

“If the patient finds that their symptoms persist, of course they should then contact their GP Practice and arrange an appointment.”

Some facts and figures

  1. Last year, the NHS in the South Nottinghamshire area spent over £880,000 a year on prescriptions for paracetamol and ibuprofen. £880,000 could pay for (approx):
  • 112 hip replacements OR
  • 19733 GP appointments OR
  • 25371 hours of community nursing
  1. Nationally, seven million GP consultations every year are for minor ailments that could be self-treated at home. This takes, on average, one hour per day of GP’s time and costs the NHS £2 billion per year.
  2. Paracetamol can cost as little as 20p per packet in some supermarkets - paracetamol on prescription costs the NHS a minimum of FIVE times much as average supermarket costs.