NHS England proposals to restrict NHS prescriptions for products available over the counter could hit those on low incomes, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee has said.

An NHS England consultation on the proposals is open until 14 March 2018, and covers medicines relating to 33 minor conditions, as well as probiotics and vitamins and minerals. The products were chosen because they meet one of the following criteria:

  • They treat a self-limiting condition
  • They treat conditions that could be managed through self care
  • They have low clinical efficacy but high cost to the NHS.

Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at PSNC, said: “As the NHS grapples with its funding crisis, it is becoming more important than ever that we develop support for self care so that people can manage their health without the need to visit their GP or hospital. Once again as it launches this consultation the NHS looks to community pharmacies to do this, promoting them as a first port of call and a place for patients to go for advice and self care treatments.

“This is right, as pharmacies offer advice and treatment at convenient locations and long opening hours, without the need for an appointment. But those looking to transfer the burden from GP practices and urgent care towards pharmacy must acknowledge that without proper resourcing, community pharmacy will also not be able to manage. The current financial pressures facing community pharmacies mean their ability to soak up pressures on the health service is already faltering. Many are struggling to survive.

“Community pharmacies can do much more to help, but they are not an infinite resource. Without recognition and support, community pharmacies will be unable to provide the safety net that the NHS so desperately needs and wants to rely on.

“As well as the impact on community pharmacies, we are particularly concerned about the impact of any changes for those on low incomes. For these families the NHS provides a vital service which, if removed, could lead to increased use of more expensive urgent care services and increased health inequalities. PSNC recommends that NHS England considers how national coverage of pharmacy minor ailments services, potentially restricted to people and families that are currently exempt from NHS prescription charges on income grounds, may provide benefits for both patients and the NHS, while at the same time avoiding the unintended consequences of implementing a blanket restriction on prescribing OTC medicines for some of the most vulnerable groups within society.”

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