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GPs to face ban on OTC prescribing for self-limiting illnesses

NHS England will ban GPs from prescribing over-the-counter medicines for 34 self-limiting conditions under proposals to be released in the new year.

Under the new proposals, GPs will be unable to prescribe over-the-counter medicines, including paracetamol, for self-limiting conditions.

NHS England today said it will release a full consultation on restricting OTC prescribing in the new year in a bid to save money, specifically targeting treatments that are cheaper for patients to buy than the NHS.

The 34 conditions include cough and colds, infant colic, mild migraine, malaria prevention and haemorrhoids.

The consultation will also look at the prescribing of probiotics and vitamins and minerals.

At the same time, NHS England released guidance for CCGs on restricting prescribing of 18 medicines that it had previously identified in a consultation earlier this year, which its board approved with few changes.

As a result, NHS England has given CCGs guidance on implementing the changes.

The new consultation is focused on OTC medications that can be purchased by the patient at a lower cost than the NHS pays, treats conditions that are self-limited and could be managed by self care.

As an example, NHS England said: ‘Paracetamol is an average of four times as expensive when provided on prescription by the NHS, compared to when it is purchased in pharmacies or supermarkets. It can costs around £34 for 32 on prescription including dispensing and GP consultation fees.’

It says that it will consider each of the conditions (see box), and decide which treatments should not be routinely offered in primary care.

The NHS England statement says: ‘GPs issued 1.1 billion prescription items at a cost of £9.2 billion in 2015/16. The vast majority were appropriate but many were for medicines, products or treatments that do not require a prescription and can be purchased over the counter from pharmacies, supermarkets, petrol stations, corner shops or other retailers in some cases at a much lower cost than the price paid by the NHS.

‘The NHS could save around £190m a year by cutting such prescriptions for minor, short-term conditions, many of which will cure themselves or cause no long term effect on health.’

The BMA GP Committee’s prescribing lead Dr Andrew Green said: ’The BMA believes it is important for patients to be encouraged to self-care wherever possible, as this is in their own interests as well as those of the wider population. Most GPs already encourage patients to purchase items over-the-counter where appropriate and this will continue. However, where a GP has judged the patient to have a need for a drug, there remains a contractual obligation to offer a prescription which must be honoured.

’We have already expressed our concerns about the impact of these proposals on vulnerable people, and the recognition that there are circumstances where prescribing is appropriate is welcomed, although without legislative change there remains the potential for GPs to be placed in difficult situations. Where this happens GPs must make the care of their patient their first concern.’

Indicative conditions or items for which prescribing could be restricted

1. Probiotics

2. Vitamins and minerals

3. Acute Sore Throat

4. Cold Sores

5. Conjunctivitis

6. Coughs and colds and nasal congestion

7. Cradle Cap (Seborrhoeic dermatitis – infants)

8. Haemorrhoids

9. Infant Colic

10.Contact Dermatitis



13.Dry Eyes/Sore (tired) Eyes


15.Excessive sweating (Hyperhidrosis)

16.Indigestion and Heartburn

17.Insect bites and stings

18.Malaria prevention

19.Mild Acne

20.Mild Dry Skin/Sunburn

21.Mild to Moderate Hay fever/Allergic Rhinitis

22.Mild Migraine

23.Minor burns and scalds

24.Minor conditions associated with pain, discomfort and/fever. (eg aches and sprains, headache, period pain, back pain)

25.Mouth ulcers

26.Nappy Rash

27.Oral Thrush

28.Prevention of dental caries

29.Ringworm/Athletes foot

30.Scabies/ Head Lice

31.Simple Constipation

32.Teething/Mild toothache


34.Travel Sickness

35.Vaginal Thrush

36.Warts and Verrucae

Source: NHS England board paper

Readers' comments (29)

  • Need to blacklist the drugs or we will just keep prescribing as long as we have other bullying and harassing quangos baying for our blood,why dont you go and have another meeting.

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  • About time too.
    A lot of comments missing the point - it says for mild self-limiting conditions not chronic long-term ones.
    This will save money and time, both desperately needed.
    As for complaints how about standard letters? Straightforward enough.

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  • I can see this being quite helpful. There is a sizable chunk of patients who always want a prescription for their child for paracetamol or for cream for the tiniest bit of almost invisible dry skin on the baby.

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  • If at the end of this public (!) consultation some patients whose primary purpose for attending is to get a free script eventually decide to stop coming to us for these conditions, that is good news.

    Surely that's the big picture message here.

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  • The savings quoted include cost of the consultation, will we gate a refund when we send them away with nothing? Because they will still come. Some alternative math going on.

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  • sorry you are still in breach of terms of service if refuse so unless terms of service altered I wont be doing it

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  • Fine by me, but needs to be drug specific not condition specific.
    Needs to be a very clear permanent ban on prescribing drugs that can be bought O.T.C.
    Also THEY need to take responsibility for this change and not pretend it is just GPs being mean and unwilling to prescribe.

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  • You are only in breach of contract if you recommend and then don't prescribe. I simply tell patients they MAY like to try some paracetamol to help with their symptoms, it is an option they can consider. Or give them a PIL of lifestyle changes for reflux/Gord and say they MAY find antacids helpful and MAY like to try them. For headlice I advise wet combing and that they MAY like a special comb to do this as it is easier than picking the nits/lice out. Very few of these conditions need treatment or severe harm will come to a patient, so if you do not recommend, you are not in breach of terms. I advise that if they are unsure what else may help, a Pharmacist is a specialist in this area and they should definitely speak to them about it

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  • No no no.
    Remove them from FP10 then we can talk.
    Do not ask me to provide cover for your political decisions.
    You may find my discretion is distinctly lop sided.

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  • Knowledge is Porridge

    I'm ok with this. It's the closest thing to leadership we have seen. The issue has always been about a fair policy across different GPs, practices and regions and therefore someone at the top needs to put their name to this. Politicians are shot down for any rationing, so it's time the NHS leadership did some leading. Keep going, there is plenty more to address.

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