Pharmacy bodies have shown mixed reactions towards new NHS England guidance on over the counter (OTC) products.
Not all pharmacy organisations welcomed NHS England guidance on ‘low value’ products, which the commissioning body says should not be routinely prescribed in primary care.
The guidance – which will free up nearly £100m every year according to NHS England – lists products for 35 OTC minor and short-term conditions including self-limiting conditions and those suitable for self care.
The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) argued that the move was ‘regrettable’.
NPA policy manager Helga Mangion said: ‘Some of the treatments on this list might only cost a couple of pounds privately, but for our poorest that’s a couple of pounds they cannot afford.
‘It establishes the worrying principle that it is fair for the NHS to remove a treatment that could be given to our most needy for free, just because that treatment is available privately.
‘The reality is doctors will not prescribe an item that is available over the counter for a lower cost unless there is a clinical need, and this guidance merely exacerbates the UK’s growing health inequalities.’
Echoing Ms Mangion’s comments, Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) English pharmacy board chair Sandra Gidley said that ‘people may be denied treatment because of their inability to pay’.
However, she said the RPS was ‘pleased’ that NHS England had made ‘positive changes’ to the guidance because it recognised the RPS’s concerns.
Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) director of NHS Services Alastair Buxton believed that the guidance is a ‘significant step for the NHS to take, as it looks to find ways to tackle its affordability challenge’.
He said: ‘While it is likely to lead to a reduction in prescription volume and the decommissioning of some minor ailments schemes, it could also present an opportunity for community pharmacy to build on its existing role in educating patients to help them to self-care.
‘We were pleased to see the significant revisions made to the proposals following the original consultation, but we know there will still be challenges in implementation; we hope the national resources being produced to support the work required at a local level will help to tackle some of these.
‘We also continue to highlight the fact that any transfer of work from GPs is likely to increase workload for community pharmacy.’