Over the counter (OTC) medications should be made available for free for people on low incomes as part of the Pharmacy First service in England, an influential group of MPs has suggested.

The recommendation came as part of the Health and Social Care (HSCC)’s report, published this week following its pharmacy inquiry.

The committee said such a move would help 'avoid patients continuing to use GPs for support that could be offered in a community pharmacy setting because of concerns about the affordability of over the counter medication'.

During the inquiry, Community Pharmacy England (CPE) chief executive Janet Morrison also said that expanding Pharmacy First to make OTC medication available for people on low incomes would help ease pressure on GPs.

‘One of the drivers for people to get a GP appointment is because they can't afford the prescription,’ Ms Morrison told the inquiry in February. She explained that some people attend GP practices in order to get a prescription – which can be dispensed to people on low incomes for free – for a medication that would otherwise be paid for over the counter.

‘I think that might be an addition to the service if we're genuine about wanting to take the pressure off GP appointments,’ Ms Morrison told the committee.

This already forms part of the minor ailments services in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, she added.

The committee's report also raised concerns about community pharmacy funding and called for greater focus on pharmacy workforce planning, as well as a legislation change that would allow pharmacists to amend prescriptions in the case of shortages.

In addition, the committee also called for the government and NHS England to ‘match the sector’s own ambition’ and publish a long-term vision for the further development of community pharmacy clinical services.

And the government should ‘commit to the ongoing promotion of Pharmacy First beyond what has already been announced’, the HSCC report added.

Responding to the report's publication on Wednesday, Ms Morrison said that CPE supported the committee's calls for 'more promotion and an expansion of Pharmacy First', as well as for the NHS and government to set out a long-term vision for development of clinical services in the sector, review the medicines supply chain, invest in workforce planning and support and implement a new 'transparent and fair funding system'.

During the inquiry, William Pett of Healthwatch England shared research that found that one in 10 people had avoided buying over-the-counter medicine because of cost, and also urged the government to reintroduce an NHS minor ailments scheme in England.

Last May, Shilpa Shah, chief executive of Community Pharmacy North East London, told The Pharmacist the area had seen an increase in patients saying they could not afford to purchase the OTC medicines that they were recommended.

Instead, they were being sent ‘around the system’ to get a prescription from the GP for the items that could be redeemed at a community pharmacy.