NHS To Review 'Low-Value' Prescription Items

Travel vaccinations, cough medicine and gluten-free foods are on the hit list.

Travel vaccinations, gluten-free foods and omega-3 supplements may no longer be available on the NHS under major cost-cutting plans.

NHS England will next month launch a consultation as it works to develop new national guidelines to stop GPs prescribing medicines which are available over the counter for a fraction of the cost, according to Press Association.

The guidelines for clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) will initially be developed around a set of 10 medicines deemed ineffective, unnecessary or inappropriate for the NHS.

alvarez via Getty Images

These “low-value” prescription items are thought to cost the service £128 million per year, NHS England said.

The review, which will take into account the views of patient groups, clinicians and providers, could extend to over-the-counter medicines which can often be bought at a much lower cost without prescription.

This could include items such as paracetamol, sun cream, cough and cold treatments, and heartburn and indigestion tablets, NHS England said.

The consultation comes following a request by NHS Clinical Commissioners which identified “significant areas” where savings of up to £400 million per year could be made.

Lidocaine plasters - for back or joint pain - and Fentinil - a painkiller for cancer patients - are among the 10 items under the focus of the initial consultation.

‘Low value’ medicines on the list and their annual cost to the NHS:

£30.93m on Liothyronine to treat underactive thyroid
£21.88m on gluten-free foods
£17.58m on Lidocaine plasters for treating nerve-related pain
£10.51m on Tadalafil, an alternative to Viagra
£10.13m on Fentanyl, a drug to treat pain in terminally ill patients
£8.32m on the painkiller Co-proxamol
£9.47m on travel vaccines
£7.12m on Doxazosin, a drug for high blood pressure
£6.43m on rubs and ointments
£5.65m on omega 3 and fish oils
Source: NHS Clinical Commissioners, via BBC

Travel vaccines protecting against typhoid, hepatitis A and cholera, and a triple jab for diptheria, polio and tetanus, will also be subject to review.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, told the Daily Mail: “Part of what we are trying to do is make sure that we have enough headroom to spend money on the innovative new drugs by not wasting it on these kinds of items.”

A spokesperson for NHS England said: “New guidelines will advise CCGs on the commissioning of medicines generally assessed as low priority and will provide support to clinical commissioning groups, prescribers and dispensers.

“The increasing demand for prescriptions for medication that can be bought over the counter at relatively low cost, often for self-limiting or minor conditions, underlines the need for all healthcare professionals to work even closer with patients to ensure the best possible value from NHS resources, whilst eliminating wastage and improving patient outcomes.”