What is changing?
From July 2018, changes were introduced across Staffordshire which mean that GPs will no longer issue prescriptions for medicines for the kind of minor, short term health problems that can be treated by medicines that are available to buy from local pharmacies.
This will give GPs more time to spend with patients with more serious medical conditions. It will also encourage patients to make better use of community pharmacies, where there is no need for an appointment and where highly trained pharmacists are able to offer free advice.
What conditions are included in this change?
Medicines available to buy over the counter will not be routinely prescribed for the following 35 conditions:
Acute sore throat
Coughs, colds and nasal congestion
Dry eyes/ sore tired eyes
Indigestion and heartburn
Infrequent cold sores of the lip
Insect bites and stings
Minor burns and scalds
Mild dry skin
Mild irritant dermatitis
Mild to moderate hay fever
Minor conditions associated with pain, discomfort and fever. (e.g. aches and sprains, headache, period pain, back pain)
Prevention of tooth decay
Warts and verrucae
Probiotics, and some vitamins and minerals will also no longer be routinely prescribed, because most people can and should get these from eating a healthy, varied and balanced diet.
In some special cases patients will still be able to get prescriptions for the conditions (or medicines used to treat them) in the list above.
Why is this happening?
This change of policy has come about as a result of NHS England’s guidance following an NHS England-led major public consultation into the prescribing of over-the-counter remedies which ended earlier in 2018.
Dealing with minor conditions is a major issue for the NHS. It is estimated that in England over £550 million is spent by the NHS annually on medicines for a range of conditions including self-limiting conditions. Often these will get better of their own accord after a short period or lend themselves to self-care, with patients easing symptoms using over-the-counter medicines.
The annual prescribing cost for these medicines in Staffordshire is around £1.3 million which could be put to better use to support more serious health conditions. As the organisation responsible for this money, we are working with local GP practices to make sure that the money we are allocated for medicines is used wisely and where it will have the most benefit to patients.
What are the benefits of going to the pharmacy instead of making an appointment to see your GP?
Pharmacists have the knowledge and skills to help with many healthcare conditions, and you don’t need an appointment to speak to a pharmacist. Visiting a pharmacist first helps to make more GP appointments available for people with more complex healthcare needs.
If you have something more serious, the pharmacist is trained to signpost you quickly to the right medical care.
What can you do?
By keeping certain useful medicines at home you can treat common conditions immediately and you won’t need to see a GP. The medicines you may want to keep at home could include:
- A painkiller to help treat minor conditions associated with pain, discomfort and fever.
- Indigestion medicines, oral rehydration salts and treatments for constipation and diarrhoea.
- Treatments for seasonal conditions such as colds and hay fever.
- Sunblock and after sun.
- Some basic first aid items would also be useful.
If you have children make sure you also have products suitable for children.
Speak to your pharmacist for advice on what medicines to keep at home, where to store them safely and how to use your medicines.
Ensuring you have a well-balanced, healthy diet will mean most people don’t need to take vitamin supplements or probiotics. If you do wish to take these products to avoid you becoming deficient, you can buy them from a pharmacy, a supermarket or online.
What about patients who need to take medicines for these conditions regularly or in special situations?
Some individual patients may still be prescribed a medicine for a condition on the list. The reasons vary for each condition and GPs, nurses or clinical pharmacists will speak to you individually if this affects you. The main reasons are:
- Treatment for a long-term condition, e.g. regular pain relief for chronic arthritis, treatments for inflammatory bowel disease.
- Treatment of more complex forms of minor illnesses, e.g. migraines that are very bad and where over-the-counter medicines do not work.
- Patients prescribed over-the-counter medicines to treat a side effect of a prescription medicine or symptom of another illness e.g. constipation when taking certain painkillers.
- The medicine has a licence which doesn’t allow the product to be sold over the counter to certain groups of patients. This may vary by medicine, but could include babies, children or women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
- The prescriber thinks that a patient cannot treat themselves, for example because of mental health problems or severe social vulnerability (not just having a low income).
What if my symptoms don’t improve?
Your pharmacist can advise on how long you can expect to experience symptoms for the conditions listed. If your symptoms have not improved after this time or you start to feel a lot worse, contact your GP or call 111. You should only use A&E and 999 for life threatening emergencies.
There is lots of advice on the NHS website to help you choose the right service - www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/
Where can you find more information and support?
- You can speak to a pharmacist who can help with advice and treatments for the conditions listed.
- Further information and advice on treating minor health problems with self-care is available at: www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/home-remedies-for-common-conditions/
- Find out more about the conditions for which over-the-counter medicines will no longer be prescribed at: www.england.nhs.uk/medicines/items-which-should-not-be-routinely-prescribed/
- Visit the NHS England website for a patient information leaflet (including an Easy Read version) - www.england.nhs.uk/publication/prescribing-of-over-the-counter-medicines-is-changing/
Need more information?
Follow the link for the pdf Staffordshire CCGs' over the counter policy (314 KB) .
If you have any concerns about the decision, please contact PALS at:
Freephone: 0800 030 4563; Mon to Fri 9am to 4pm (excluding Bank Holidays - answerphone available)