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Q&A: OTC asthma inhaler schemes

What is the scheme?

Patients aged 16 and over can purchase a salbutamol inhaler over the counter at 253 Asda stores. Although salbutamol is still classified as a prescription-only medicine, Asda was the first supermarket to begin selling the inhalers without requiring a prescription under a Patient Group Direction (PGD).

Why was the scheme brought in?

Asda said they brought in the scheme to give patients easier access to medicines.

When did the scheme begin?

The scheme began in June.

What has changed?

The supermarket has also brought in amendments to automatically inform GPs of the sale of an inhaler and limited the number of inhalers patients can buy,

Were there any concerns over the scheme?

GPC leaders and other GPs voiced concerns that patients would overuse reliever inhalers, but neglect preventer steriod inhalers, an essential part of long-term management of asthma. There was worry the scheme meant asthma and COPD patients could bypass a GP consultation in which a long term plan for managing the condition would be formulated.

Are there any other similar schemes?

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) gave the green light to the rollout of a national scheme for 12,500 pharmacies, which would see patients given access to 16 medicines without a prescription, including salbutamol inhalers, trimethoprim and sildenafil.