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'Low-value' prescription crackdown can see travel jabs and gluten-free food no longer available on NHS


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NHS England doctors may be prevented from providing patients with travel vaccinations, prescriptions for hayfever and indigestion tablets and omega 3 supplements following significant budget cuts.

With these new guidelines in place, the health service looks to save up to £400 million per year.

A consultation will be launched next month and will look into the areas where possible savings could be made. Guidelines will then be made for clinical commissioning groups around a set of ten medicines deemed ineffective or inappropriate for the NHS.

This will take into consideration the views of patients, clinicians and providers and could extend to over the counter medication which can normally be purchased at a much cheaper rate without a prescription.

It has been revealed that prescriptions for these over-the-counter items including paracetamol, cough syrups and hayfever treatment cost NHS England around £128 million per year.

Among the ten medications taken into consideration in the initial consultation is Fentanyl, a painkiller used by cancer sufferers, and Lidocaine plasters for joint and back pain.

Travel vaccines that protect against typhoid, hepatitis A and cholera as well as a triple jab for polio, diphtheria and tetanus will also be up for review.

Currently, the health service offers these vaccinations free in order to protect against diseases brought into the country by travellers.

Those suffering from Coeliac disease may also have to begin buying their own gluten-free food as the cost-cutting plans may see these no longer available on the NHS. The proposal is to come in place to crackdown on these low value products available in supermarkets for a fraction of the cost.

Approximately one in 100 people suffer from Coeliac disease, which causes the body to react to gluten protein. The treatment is entirely cutting the substance from the sufferer’s diet.

To aid in this, patients in many parts of the UK receive prescription gluten-free staple foods once diagnosed by a GP. Approved prescription foods include bread, cereals, pasta, oats and pizza bases.

Without this help from the NHS, a Coeliac disease sufferer would have to purchase their staple food from supermarkets – usually at a higher rate.

Suncream is also currently available on prescription for those suffering from photodermatoses; a group of skin conditions related with an abnormal reaction to UV radiation.

It is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence that those diagnosed use a high SPF sun cream from spring to autumn which could become a substantial cost if those suffering have to pay for it on their own.

Painkiller Co-proxamol, omega 3 tablets and thyroid hormone Liothyonine are also up for review under these new plans.

“Part of what we are trying to do is make sure that we have enough headroom to spend money on the innovative new drugs by not wasting it on these kinds of items,” said Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England.

A spokesperson for NHS England also said: “New guidelines will advise CCGs on the commissioning of medicines generally assessed as low priority and will provide support to clinical commissioning groups, prescribers and dispensers.

“The increasing demand for prescriptions for medication that can be bought over the counter at relatively low cost, often for self-limiting or minor conditions, underlines the need for all healthcare professionals to work even closer with patients to ensure the best possible value from NHS resources, whilst eliminating wastage and improving patient outcomes.”

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