Changes to prescribing for medicines which you can buy over the counter

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OTC MedsFrom April 2019, GPs are no longer routinely providing prescriptions for medications and treatments which can be bought over the counter at pharmacies and supermarkets.

This means that GPs, nurses and pharmacists will not usually prescribe certain medicines for minor health concerns and patients will be asked to purchase them from pharmacies or supermarkets instead.

The changes follow national recommendations from NHS England to encourage people to self-care and to reduce the amount of money the NHS spends on medicines which are available to buy over the counter.

In Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, between April 2017 and March 2018, the NHS spent £4.1m on prescriptions for medicines that can be bought from a pharmacy or supermarket. By saving money on items which are readily available, priority can be given to treatments for people with more serious conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and mental health problems.

These changes apply to

  • health conditions which are self-limiting and so do not need treatment, as they will heal or be cured of their own accord
  • any minor ailment that is suitable for self-care, which means that medical advice is not normally needed and the person can manage the condition themselves, by purchasing medication directly.

These prescriptions also include other common items

  • that can be purchased over the counter, sometimes at a lower cost than that which would be incurred by the NHS
  • for which there is little evidence of clinical effectiveness such as probiotics, vitamins and mineral supplements.

People who need medicines to treat a long-term health condition, such as diabetes, or for more complex illnesses, as well as patients on treatments only available on prescription will not be affected by the changes. The changes will also not apply to those who have found that over-the-counter products haven’t helped, or patients who are unable to treat themselves. In all of these cases, prescribers will be able to use their own judgement when deciding whether to issue a prescription.

Dr James Ogle, GP and Clinical Lead for Prescribing at West Leicestershire CCG, said: “The sorts of health conditions these changes apply to include headaches, indigestion, head lice, travel sickness, hay fever, diarrhoea and insect bites and stings.

“Last year the local CCGs carried out a public survey across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, which gave us an understanding of how people would be affected if they had to buy these types of medicines, instead of having them prescribed. Most people told us that they already buy their own medicines to treat minor conditions and are quite willing to do so.

“Community pharmacists are best placed to help and advise you regarding suitable treatments for common ailments.  The pharmacist will check the medicine is appropriate for you and your health problem and will ask questions to make sure there is no reason why you should not use the medicine.

“However, if people are still worried after speaking to the pharmacist, or their symptoms get worse or persist, they can of course still make an appointment at their GP practice.”

We know from the public surveys that there are some people who will find it more difficult to self care or to buy over the counter medication. We want to reassure patients that we recognise that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is not always appropriate and they can always talk to their GP if they have concerns for any reason, because GPs will still be able to prescribe in some situations.

We are now providing more information to help people understand their symptoms and build confidence in treating minor illnesses themselves.”