Plans are being explored by the East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group, which covers Burnley, Pendle and the Ribble Valley, to reduce prescribing everything from pain relief and indigestion medication to head lice treatments, anti-histamines and sun creams.
The move is designed to save hundreds of thousands of pounds and to cut pressure on GP surgeries.
A spokesman said: “The CCG is launching a campaign to raise public awareness and encourage self-care when an NHS prescription is unnecessary.
“This will include encouraging members of the public to think carefully about going to the doctor to obtain NHS prescriptions of some items which are readily and cheaply available from pharmacies and supermarkets.
“This is particularly important as pressure and demand on the NHS is so great. To support patients who have minor illnesses and injuries, we run a scheme in East Lancashire called Pharmacy First which provides advice and support to people on the management of minor illnesses and injuries. This service is targeted at people who would otherwise have gone to visit their GP for a minor illness, such as a cough or sore throat.”
It is, however, claimed the initiative is likely to have the biggest impact on people who are eligible for free prescriptions.
Russ Mclean, chairman of East Lancashire Patients Voice, said while many might agree with painkillers and stomach pills being removed from the prescribing list, other medications would prove controversial.
“There seems to be a real drive by CCGs across the country to claw back money where they can, having significantly overspent.
“Patients are aware that our beloved NHS is in dire straits and that at a glance, there seems to be so much waste. All CCGs plan to cut the number of items, which may be prescribed to patients, by asking healthcare practitioners not to prescribe these items, which might include sun creams, medication for tummy upsets and Paracetamol. When you consider that Paracetamol can be bought over the counter from any supermarket for less than 20p, you can see the logic in their thinking.
“However, consider the cancer patient who may be compelled to use sun creams in order to go outdoors, even on the cloudiest of days. Should we really be denying these patients their medication? We also need to consider the diabetic patient who may not buy foot cream if they have to pay £8 per month to fund it. The knock on effect of that on the health economy could be catastrophic, when, months down the line, that patient needs a foot amputation because they stopped using the cream.”
However, the move has been welcomed by Dr Vanessa Warren, clinical lead for Ribblesdale locality and end-of-life care. She said: “I support the Pharmacy First scheme and would encourage people to consider the option of speaking to a pharmacist prior to ringing the GP if they are unsure that they need an appointment, as there are a lot of things pharmacists can deal with and if they can’t they will advise contact with the surgery. All the local Clitheroe pharmacies are supporting the scheme.”
Dr Warren’s views were echoed by Coun. Terry Hill. He said: “My view is a personal one, but I actually agree with this initiative. The dispensing cost of things like Paracetamol, which you can buy for 90p is several pounds. That is without the cost of the doctors’ time which is considerable."