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GPs’ concerns about plan to restrict prescriptions

By David Gazet

GPs will be asked to restrict NHS prescriptions for cough medicines, sunscreen, vitamins and painkillers under major cost-cutting plans.

West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group (WKCCG), which buys and plans health care, wants patients seeking drugs widely available in shops for minor ailments to avoid sourcing them through their doctor, potentially saving more than £2 million.

The proposals were approved by a meeting of the board, where members were told not prescribing certain medications – including everything from diarrhoea tablets to head lice shampoo – would adversely impact pensioners, the disabled and the impoverished.

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A doctor at work. Stock picture.
A doctor at work. Stock picture.

In west Kent, the NHS spends £1.8 million every year on medicines, most of which could be bought cheaper in a pharmacy.

If all prescriptions were stopped immediately it could save more than £2.3m during the rest of this financial year and the next.

However, Tim Palmer, who brought forward the proposal, said WKCCG cannot enforce an outright ban and the actual saving is likely to be about £340,000.

The change will not affect people on long-term prescriptions, but will hit the elderly, who receive medicine for free, and the disabled and housebound, who can currently get prescriptions delivered to their homes.

Dr Julian Spinks, vice-chairman of the Kent Local Medical Committee which represents doctors, warned that asking his members to enforce restrictions could put them in breach of their contractual obligations to the regulatory body, the General Medical Council.

He said: “Most GPs already understand difficult decisions are required to use NHS money wisely and often recommend patients purchase simple medications available over the counter.

Dr Julian Spinks
Dr Julian Spinks

“Despite this I have concerns, without a national agreement, asking GPs to restrict prescriptions for these types of medications potentially puts them in breach of their conditions of service, which require them to prescribe the medication the patient needs.

“It also has the potential to affect the poorest in society who may not have the money to purchase over-the-counter medication.”

West Kent CCG already runs a “pharmacy first” program, aiming to get patients using their pharmacy for consultations about minor problems instead of going to their GP.

Winter warning

NHS bosses also took the opportunity to issue a stark warning about care during the coming winter.

The board was told the area is lagging behind many others in the uptake of flu vaccinations – which last year was particularly low among children of school age.

Many hospitals, including those under Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, experienced unprecedented demand this year and are putting robust plans in place to cope with winter needs.

Ian Ayres, West Kent CCG’s accountable officer, said: “The NHS system is increasingly concerned about this winter, the pressure on the primary and secondary care during the period, and that concern is escalating by the day.

"There is more concern in the system about this winter than I have seen for many years.”

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