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Six in ten GPs support ban on prescribing over-the-counter drugs

Nearly 60% of GPs would support a ban on all prescribing of over-the-counter (OTC) medications, a Pulse survey has revealed.

The survey found that 58.6% of GPs supported a ban, although over a third (34.9%) opposed the idea. Fewer than 7% of respondents said they do not know what they think.

It comes as Pulse revealed in June that CCGs are increasingly putting pressure on GPs to stop providing prescriptions for paracetamol and other over-the-counter medications, despite warnings from GP leaders that this could put GPs in breach of their prescribing responsibilities under GMC regulations.

Many respondents in favour of a ban pointed out that some OTC medications, such as paracetamol, were extremely cheap to purchase in pharmacies at a time when the NHS faced huge financial challenges. 

But other GPs warned that restricting NHS funding for OTC medicines would discriminate against people on low incomes.

Dr Zishan Syed, a GP in Maidstone, West Kent, and who fully supported the idea of a ban, said: ‘It is a political mirage to say that the NHS is free at the point of delivery.

‘Countless appointments and administrative time are wasted for prescriptions of over-the-counter medications because people do not want to pay for these. It is time for an honest debate about funding for healthcare.’

Dr Deborah Shiel, a GP partner based in Woking, North West Surrey, was one of those respondents who did not support a ban on prescribing, especially when it came to certain conditions.

She said: ‘Paracetamol and ibuprofen quantities available OTC are not suitable for those with chronic conditions requiring greater quantities.’

Dr Nick Cooper, a GP in Weston-super-Mare, argued that there should be ‘clinical discretion’ when assessing whether patients can afford to buy the medications.

Dr Cooper told Pulse said that he supports ‘in principle’ the idea that people should purchase ‘readily available’ OTC medication rather than NHS incurring the cost in ‘such austere times’.

But he added: ‘However, I share the concerns that have been documented by others, who say that if a doctor is recommending a specific treatment they should ensure that the patient has the means to receive that treatment.’

‘Unfortunately, in some situations patients genuinely can’t afford to pay so it would be reasonable for the GP to prescribe. I would suggest this would be in exceptional circumstances however.’

Pulse learned in June that CCGs in the East Midlands launched a consultation which called for suggestions on how they can cut paracetamol prescriptions to patients with long-term chronic pain from arthritis.

Other CCGs that have asked GPs to reduce prescribing of OTC drugs include NHS Bristol CCG, NHS Warrington CCG, NHS East Riding of Yorkshire CCG, and NHS Luton CCG.

And NHS Somerset has become the latest CCG on a drive to restrict GPs from prescribing – with a ban on a raft of items for minor illnesses, such as throat-sprays, hair removing cream, and coughs and cold remedies.

But, at the same time, a recent YouGov poll of 2,000 adults found that half of the public believe that their GP should always give them the prescription, treatment, or referral that they request.

Survey question in full

Would you support a ban on all prescribing of OTC medications?

Yes – 58.55%

No – 34.88%

Don’t know – 6.57%

The survey was launched on 9 November 2016, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 29 questions covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on one issue. A total of 1,141 GPs answered the question above.


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