Salbutamol inhalers will be sold over the counter at supermarkets for the first time this month, meaning patients will no longer have to visit their GP for a prescription.
From Tuesday pharmacists at 218 Asda stores will start dispensing the inhalers to customers aged 16 and over, with two inhalers available every eight weeks at a cost of £7.
Patients will need to fill out a questionnaire to receive the medicine, with the scheme being monitored by Asda pharmacists and online doctor service DrThom.
Salbutamol is still classified as a prescription-only medicine but Asda will be selling the inhalers under a Patient Group Direction.
Faisal Tuddy, deputy superintendent pharmacist at Asda, said the scheme would make accessing an inhaler more convenient for patients.
He said: ‘It can often prove to be stressful trying to book a GP appointment when your inhaler is running low.’
However, there are concerns that making inhaled beta-agonists more readily available could mean patients neglect use of inhaled steroids.
Dr Bill Beeby, chair of the GPC’s clinical and prescribing subcommittee, said: ‘There are already a large number of people who overuse relief medication. People will overuse relievers but neglect preventers and prevention is an essential part of long-term management of asthma. I’d be very concerned if over-the-counter inhalers made this worse.’
He added that it was worrying that asthma and COPD patients could bypass a GP consultation: ‘It allows them to just treat the symptoms without them going through the process of talking through long term management with GPs.’
‘The sort of usage we’re talking about here- two inhalers every eight weeks- would normally trigger a review with a doctor to discuss preventative treatments. It’s concerning that patients will be able to bypass this.’
A DH spokesperson said: ‘Medicines should be dispensed by appropriately qualified staff and in line with all legal requirements.’