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Is a national minor ailments scheme destined to stay on the back burner forever more?


By Dr Livingstone
GP

27 Jun 2018

It’s unlikely that Steve Brine’s promises to develop a national minor ailments scheme will come to fruition any time soon, says The Pharmacist’s GP blogger Dr Livingstone

According to pharmacy minister Steve Brine, a pharmacy-led national minor ailments scheme is, ‘in development’. On the other hand, the Department of Health and Social Care says that, ‘Ministers have not taken any decision about the next steps for this scheme.’

So that must be very early ‘development’ then, in the same way that a car stalled on the starting grid is in the very early stages of winning a Grand Prix.

But there’s probably a good reason for ministers to relegate this hot potato to the back burner. After all, events have overtaken them and posed a dilemma that makes the concept of a minor ailments scheme a major headache.

The spanner in the works is NHS England’s recent and much publicised policy to discourage the prescription of over-the-counter (OTC) products for treating short term and minor self limiting illness. It’s not unreasonable that the public should fund simple household remedies rather than expect their GP to provide a prescription-based subsidy. But the policy sits very uncomfortably with the minor ailment schemes that provide simple treatments free to those who don’t pay the prescription charge.

In fact, the two are incompatible, which is why four clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Derbyshire have decided to ditch their local minor ailment schemes – and doubtless others will follow suit.

This does at least focus the mind on what we’re trying to achieve with minor illness. A diversion of trivia from GP to pharmacy at some cost to the NHS? Or a concerted effort to promote self sufficiency, self management and self funding of minor remedies?

I’d favour the latter on the basis that most minor ills need nothing more than a dose of common sense, and anything that reduces unnecessary medicalisation is good for patients and good for the NHS. I won’t hold my breath, though. It’ll need a major public education exercise, for a start. And then patients will have to buy into it. Literally.


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