Prescribing changes will help educate patients and prioritise NHS resources for those most in need

From the beginning of April Telford & Wrekin’s NHS clinical commissioners will no longer support the prescribing of medicines that are widely available over-the-counter from community pharmacies, shops and supermarkets.

GPs will be asked not to write prescriptions for a range of treatments that can be bought without a prescription or a GP consultation. They often cost pennies.

This will help educate patients about self-limiting, common conditions, encourage them to keep a well-stocked medicine cabinet at home, save NHS resources and free up time that local GPs can spend with patients with more serious conditions.

There are advantages for patients and the NHS.

  • Pharmacists are skilled health professionals who are qualified to advise on a wide range of health conditions, no appointment is required to see them and patients can use any pharmacy at their convenience
  • It often costs the NHS far more to prescribe medicines than the over-the-counter price. For instance paracetamol is roughly four times as expensive. NHS money spent on these medicines cannot to spent on the treatment of more complex and serious illnesses
  • Patients will gain increased awareness of which minor conditions they can manage at home with the aid of a pharmacist
  • Some surveys have shown that GPs spend an average of one hour per day seeing patients with minor ailments that will either get better without treatment (self-limiting conditions) or can be tackled with over-the-counter medicines – those appointments will be freed up and GPs could spend that time with patients with more serious conditions

Dr Jo Leahy, Clinical Chair of Telford & Wrekin Clinical Commissioning Group said: “We want to help educate people that many common conditions can be treated with over-the-counter-medicines from a pharmacy or supermarket. There is no need to see a GP or get a prescription.

“Dealing with minor conditions has now become a major issue for the NHS nationally. The cost of treating minor ailments has risen to around £2 billion and if people with minor ailments used a pharmacy instead of a GP it would free up 57 million GP appointments per year for patients with more serious problems.

“All GPs tend to see patients who really need something from the pharmacy or who have self-limiting conditions that will simply get better without treatment. It’s not true that a remedy prescribed by a GP will be more effective than something bought over-the-counter, and pharmacists are well qualified to advise on the treatment of minor ailments.”

There is also a range of other NHS advice available, such as NHS111 which provides telephone advice, and the NHS Choices website. They are completely free to patients.

The most common conditions GPs see that could be managed by over-the-counter remedies include:

  • Back pain
  • Headaches
  • Strains and pains
  • Heartburn and indigestion
  • Constipation and haemorrhoids
  • Diarrhoea and Vomiting
  • Coughs, cold and fever
  • Nasal congestion
  • Allergies like hay fever
  • Minor skin conditions, rashes, insect bites, sunburn
  • Acne
  • Cold sores
  • Head lice

Dr Leahy: “We have talked to many of our local patient groups and they broadly back these changes.

“Most patients are now aware that the NHS is under increasing pressure because of the growing demand. If more people educated themselves about how to treat minor ailments this would help GPs prioritise treatment for those patients who really need their skills.”