The number of medicines handed out by pharmacists as part of the Minor Ailments Scheme, launched to ease the pressure on family doctors, could be reduced in a bid to save cash.
Health bosses are proposing to axe a number of treatments from the scheme following plans to also crackdown on the number of patients being referred for certain medical procedures, including IVF treatment, Caesarean sections, and grommets, a type of surgical hearing aid for children under 12.
Blackpool Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said the move could save a further £161,000 a year, with treatments for allergies, cystitis, diarrhoea, heartburn or indigestion, headaches, mouth ulcers, thrush, teething pain, temperatures, threadworm, and conjunctivitis all under threat.
Head lice treatment has already been removed from the list of medications available under the scheme.
The CCG’s chief clinical officer, Dr Amanda Doyle, a GP at Bloomfield Medical Centre, said: “We have to make sure every penny is spent wisely and in the most beneficial way for everybody across Blackpool.
“In order to continue paying for quality services that provide essential health care, we have to look at ways to reduce inefficiencies and costs for things which are not clinically necessary.
“More and more people are becoming aware of how to treat minor ailments such as coughs or colds and we know from previous conversations with the public that they are happy to purchase those treatments cheaply over the counter.
“We want to actively encourage that.”
Blackpool CCG said the Minor Ailments Scheme has been used 17,000 times in the past year, with 172,000 people – those registered with a town GP – currently able to benefit from it. It was unable to say how many residents currently qualify for free prescriptions. It said the treatments are generally for conditions that get better on their own, and said the annual cost of GPs issuing prescriptions for simple painkillers such as paracetemol, cough and cold remedies, and cold sore treatments, is an estimated £800,000 a year.
Supermarkets often charge less than 50p for a packet of paracetamol, but it costs the NHS £10.31 after administration fees.
However, other medicines, including Mebendazole for threadworm, a tiny parasite which most commonly affects children under 10, costs around £8.
When asked what impact removing medicines from the scheme could have on resort GPs, the CCG said pharmacists should remain the first point of contact for minor ailments.
Dr Doyle added: “The Minor Ailments Scheme is predominantly for self-limiting conditions which, if left untreated, will improve over time anyway. Some of the items on the scheme, such as head lice treatment have already been removed following engagement with the public, as they are not a priority for CCG spending and it is reasonable for people to purchase these treatments over the counter at a significantly reduced cost to what the NHS pays.
“Previous patient surveys have largely shown that they support the CCG in this decision and we are continuing further engagement to determine whether there are any other minor ailment treatments that could be removed from this scheme.
“We would always advocate self-treatment for minor ailments and GPs will often advise patients to speak with a pharmacist instead of making an appointment with the practice, as pharmacists are highly trained and experienced professionals who are able to offer expert advice about which medication to buy and so should be the first point of contact before visiting a GP.”
Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard said: “It is right that the CCG regularly reviews its guideline and it does seem sensible to me that pharmacist play a wider part in our nation’s health service.
“It is also right to encourage people to buy some tablets over the counter or in supermarkets. For instance a packet of paracetamol can cost as little as 16p, where as being prescribed costs the Health Service over £10 in administration alone.
“I believe that anyone who feels the real need to see a doctor should have an appointment, but many minor and isolated illness can be addresses through other means than a GP’s appointment and can be treated by over the counter medicine.”