‘It is heartless’: Blackpool scraps scheme that allows parents to get free medicine from their pharmacist

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A scheme that allows people to pick up routine medicines over the counter for free is to end.

Blackpool’s ‘Minor Ailment Scheme’ was scaled back last year to axe a number of treatments, including for headaches, diarrhoea, head lice, and teething pain, but will now close altogether.

NHS commissioners in the resort said they were following national guidelines, and that it was “right that we prioritise spending on” treatment for more serious conditions, but there was concern about the impact on poorer families in the resort.

While they could ask their family doctor for a prescription, health chiefs earlier this year said they were “encouraging GPs to no longer prescribe some medications that were of limited clinical value.”

While paracetamol can be bought from the supermarket for pence but costs the NHS £10.31 after admin fees, medication for threadworm, a tiny parasite that commonly affects children under 10, costs around £8 in shops.

Julie Bascombe, 51, who runs Bugs To Butterflies, a children’s charity in Blackpool, said: “This scheme is important and essential to parents, especially low income families. If it is a choice of money in the gas metre or medicine, we know what is going to win – and it could end with dire effects on children. They could end up sicker.

“More families are needing food banks than ever, so why on Earth are they going to cut things that help children?”

Dr Amanda Doyle, GP and chief clinical officer at Blackpool CCG which organises and pays for residents’ healthcare, accepted the move “may be difficult for some patients,” but said it was “not good use of the NHS’s limited resources to issue prescriptions for products which are not clinically effective, or for conditions that will get better without treatment, or whose symptoms can be managed with appropriate self-care.”

Since March last year, the only conditions covered by the scheme have been ‘acute pain/fever/temperature in under-12s, bites and stings, head lice (comb only), and threadworms.

When asked how many people had used the scheme in the last year, a CCG spokesman said there had been 3,484 “consultations with pharmacists” between April 1, 2017, and March, 31, 2018.

James Sorah from Blackpool Against The Cuts said: “There are massive tax cuts for the richest in society but we are being told we can’t afford these services any more, and it is being targeted at the most vulnerable people in society. When people don’t have any money and are in work it is quite heartless. It is turning the NHS in to a second rate service and more people will take out private medical health care which will end up with a two tier health system.

“Minor ailments can become serious ailments if not treated properly. People should be getting angry about this and writing to their MPs.”

The Minor Ailment Scheme is set to close at the end of the month.