The NHS has received criticism over prescription costs
In April, NHS England is set to launch a major cost-cutting consultation as it works to develop new national guidelines for clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) involving 10 medicines deemed ineffective, unnecessary or inappropriate for the NHS to prescribe.
This will see patients pay for their own painkillers, cough medicines and gluten-free food in the chemist or supermarket.
The list also includes omega-3 and fish oils, lidocaine plasters for joint pain, haemorrhoid cream and anti-fungal nail paint and travel vaccines. Painkillers rubefacients, thyroid medicine liothyronine and doxazosin MR for hypertension are also included.
The cutbacks will save £128m per year and provision of items such as paracetamol, suncream, cough treatments and indigestion tablets could be included in future reviews.
In April, NHS England is set to launch a major cost-cutting consultation
But politicians, doctors and medical charities lined up to slam the proposals.
Doctors will always prescribe in the best interests of the patient
Dr Richard Vautrey
Coeliac UK said it was “deeply disappointed” about proposals to restrict NHS-prescribed gluten-free products.
And Labour said the proposals were a “direct result of Theresa May’s underfunding of the NHS”.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition caused by a reaction to gluten and the only treatment is a lifelong strict gluten-free diet.
The charity’s chief executive Sarah Sleet said: “I am very concerned that vulnerable and elderly patients today will be waking up to the headlines that prescriptions for the breads and flours that they rely upon as part of a healthy balanced diet will be removed in one fell swoop.
“The comments made about availability of such products, for example in Lidl, show the lack of understanding about the reality of access.
“Research shows that budget and convenience stores, which are relied upon by the most vulnerable such as the elderly, those with disabilities and on low incomes, have virtually no provision.”
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Ministers need to explain what today’s restrictions will mean for those eligible for free prescriptions such as the elderly, pregnant and those on low incomes.
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“Of course, NHS bosses are right to demand the best possible value for money from the medicines they buy so that every penny can go towards patient care.
“But let’s be clear: the greater restrictions and rationing proposed today are a direct result of Theresa May’s underfunding of the NHS.”
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Prescribing is a core skill in general practice and family doctors will always prescribe in the best interests of the patient in front of us.”
Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, added: “Rather than tinkering with the system there needs to be a fundamental review so that all patients are treated fairly and GPs are not pressured to limit prescribing when their patient is requesting a prescription.”
The consultation comes following a request by NHS Clinical Commissioners which identified “significant areas” where savings of up to £400m per year could be made.
The NHS believes it can save £400m per year
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “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.”
Mr Stevens is also expected to issue new national guidance that will include a drive to recover the costs of treating EU citizens which could save the NHS up to £1bn in two years.
And Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Given the financial mess the NHS has found itself in for some years now, it is a wonder these low-cost household products were provided for in the first place – particularly when vital cancer drugs are being rationed.
“While this review is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough.
"There will need to be significantly more radical cutbacks and a complete rethink of the system in order to achieve a financially sustainable and efficient health service.