RPS rejects proposal to stop NHS treatments for common health conditions

We're concerned about the ban on prescribing clinically effective medicines proposed by NHS Clinical Commissioners.

We welcome the consultation launched by NHS England today on ‘Items which should not routinely be prescribed in primary care.’

This proposes that 18 medicines identified by NHS England as having low clinical value should no longer be prescribed on the NHS, and that over 3,000 medicines to treat common health conditions should not be prescribed on the NHS.

Ineffective and unsafe medicines should not be prescribed on the NHS and in particular we welcome the inclusion of homeopathy in this category. Removing homeopathy, which has no scientific or pharmacological basis, from NHS supply is long overdue.

However, we have serious concerns in relation to the proposed restriction on prescribing clinically effective medicines to treat common conditions such as head lice or athlete’s foot.

This move would fundamentally alter the principle that care is free at the point of delivery and as such should be legislated for by Parliament and not implemented by Clinical Commissioning Groups. Principle 2 of the NHS Constitution clearly states that ‘Access to NHS services is based on clinical need, not an individual’s ability to pay. NHS services are free of charge, except in limited circumstances sanctioned by Parliament.’

RPS England Board Chair Sandra Gidley said:

“We would encourage people with minor health problems to self-care with the support of a pharmacist and to buy medicines where appropriate and affordable to the individual.

“However, expecting everyone to pay for medicines for common conditions will further increase health inequalities and worsen the health of patients who cannot afford them.  A blanket ban on prescribing of items available to buy will not improve individual quality of life or health outcomes in England.

“Those on low incomes will be disproportionately affected. They should not be denied treatment because of an inability to pay. Longer term costs to the taxpayer of increased ill-health, subsequent GP consultations or visits to A&E must also be taken into account as a result of medicines not having been prescribed.

“In order to reduce pressure on already overworked GPs, as well as out of hours and A&E services, people with minor health problems should be treated via NHS pharmacy minor ailment schemes.

“These schemes enable patients to be treated for minor ailments at no cost from the pharmacy, if they already receive free prescriptions. Such schemes already operate in Scotland and Wales and should be made available across England as soon as possible.”