Prescribing toiletries costs NHS £3.4m

CREDIT: This story was originally seen on The Times

Free prescriptions of over-the-counter toiletries and medicines cost the NHS £3.4m last year, according to The Times

The NHS has come under scrutiny this week as The Times revealed that many high street toiletries are being handed as free prescriptions.

According to the results of this investigation, doctors are handing out free prescriptions for big brands that are available in most shops – such as Colgate and Neutrogena – at a rate of almost one per minute. This cost the health service £3.4m last year.

Prescriptions for simple, everyday toiletries have swelled in number by almost 600% since 2007. A massive rise in cost has inevitably followed: 10 years ago, the NHS paid £483,000 for these prescriptions – a drop in the ocean compared with 2017.

In defence of the doctors carrying out these prescriptions, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), responded to the research, saying that doctors always encourage patients to buy over-the-counter from pharmacies.

“GPs are expert medical professionals, and being able to correctly identify and prescribe drugs that are most likely to benefit to our patients is a core part of our training.

“GPs are acutely aware of how much money prescriptions cost the NHS, and will always encourage patients who can afford to buy ‘over the counter’ products to source them themselves. Also, in most cases, generic products will work just as well as branded ones, as well as being much cheaper, and this should be factored in but there are notable exceptions, and supply issues can affect what doctors are able to prescribe from time to time.

“The College has worked closely with NHS England in recent months to help establish new guidelines identifying over-the-counter medicines that shouldn’t be routinely prescribed through the health service – and we certainly support the drive to reduce prescriptions where the evidence suggests they have little or no benefit for patients.

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“However, it is essential that GPs do retain their ability to use their expert medical judgement to prescribe in the best interests of the person sitting in front of them.”

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