Suncream on the NHS (really)

You would think that when Britain is ranked a poor 27th in world health and wellness that the NHS would be better off concentrating its limited resources on research, diagnosis and treatment of serious and life threatening illnesses.  An analysis published in the Daily Mail today of the Health and Social Care Information’s prescription data, listing all drugs dished out by the NHS, revealed that basic and often standard lifestyle items such as Calpol, toothpaste and suncream are being claimed and paid for by the NHS on free prescriptions.  

The ludicrous and alarming figures speak for themselves:

  • 404,500 prescriptions for suncream, totalling a scandalous £13 million
  • 4.7 million prescriptions for over-the-counter indigestion pills, costing £29 million
  • 1.4 million prescriptions for multi-vitamins, resulting in a cost to the taxpayer of £4.2 million

Other basic and non-essential items include Vaseline and throat pastilles, not medicines but toiletries which should not be funded by the NHS and consequently, the taxpayer.  Whilst every week patients are denied life changing treatment, others are abusing the system with frequent prescriptions for hangover tablets and Yakult yogurt drinks. 

Not only is this a chronic waste of taxpayers’ money but also a complete disregard for the importance of more pressing issues that dominate the NHS today.  Small wonder that those on the frontline are calling for more cash when we're frittering so much away on this! This issue is GPs are currently tied by their contract which demands they prescribe any medication they think is ‘necessary.’  What’s next, free mattresses for back ache, vacuum cleaners for dust allergies, holidays to Spain for stress?  GPs should have a separate list of non-branded alternatives that they can recommend that can be purchased at market price.  Indeed the recent release of our Spending Plan details this stating that doctors and prescribing nurses too often write prescriptions for drugs that are cheap and available to buy off the shelf in pharmacists and supermarkets costing the taxpayer a significant amount.  Much more has to be done to provide the most effective drug, both in how it helps the patient and how it cuts costs.

Jonathan Isaby, our Chief Executive, told the Daily Mail that:

“the vast majority of hard-pressed families have to pay for their own everyday essentials, and the tax payers will be furious if others are gaming at the system. We must tighten up the rules on these giveaways and give GPs more flexibility, ensuring that only those who really need them receive them.”

The whole prescribing system needs an overhaul. With over 1.1  billion prescriptions issued last year - more than 2,000 a minute and an increase of 3% - the cost has spiralled out of control. While regular patients pay £8.20 for each prescription the group that pays nothing - under 16s, pregnant women, new mothers, adults on benefits - are the ones who receive the majority of prescriptions.  If they were asked to pay £8.20 too they would find that most of their ‘necessary’ items were much cheaper if bought over the counter.  But of course, nothing is as cheap as when someone else is picking up the tab.   Our Spending Plan highlights the necessity of ensuring prescribers have to actively choose a more expensive alternative and in this case, the practice, not the taxpayer, pays the premium where there is no medical reason for it.  


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