Plans to make people pay for ‘over the counter’ treatments risk impacting the most vulnerable patients

Thu, 30 November 2017

NHS England has announced plans to limit access to some treatments.

The national body wants to pressure GPs to stop prescribing medicines that are available to buy over the counter. This would include treatments dispensed to the millions of people who qualify for free prescriptions, such as those on  Jobseekers Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance, older people, children, pregnant mothers, and people living with cancer.

Under the proposals outlined today, those currently receiving free prescriptions may have to start paying for certain treatments.

Approximately 972 million prescriptions are dispensed each year free of charge to people who qualify because of the level of their need, or their financial circumstances (90% of all prescriptions). [1]

The list of those eligible for free prescriptions includes people aged 60 or over, people aged under 16, pregnant mothers, people living with some long term conditions including cancer, and people on Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment  and Support Allowance, and some other types of benefits

Under the proposed guidance, these groups of people will have to start paying for some prescriptions they currently receive for free, including treatments for conditions such as haemorrhoids, scabies, head lice, mild to moderate allergies, oral thrush and ringworm.

Commenting on the plans, Don Redding, Director of Policy at National Voices the coalition of 160 health and care charities, said:

If taken forward, these plans could mean that some treatments are only available to those who can afford them.

This would risk adversely affecting those people who currently get free prescriptions, which includes some of the most vulnerable in our society and those who are ‘just about managing’.

Yes, there are difficult decisions for the NHS to make, but the rationing of treatments should not be targeted at those most in need, and those already living on a financial knife-edge.

We noted NHS England’s commitment to meaningfully engage patient groups to understand these unintended consequences and we look forward to working with them.

One of the key principles enshrined in the NHS Constitution states that: “NHS services are free of charge, except in limited circumstances sanctioned by Parliament.” [2]


Contact Andrew McCracken, head of Communications at National Voices, for further information: 020 3176 0737, 07739981846, or

Stats and facts


[1] Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community, Statistics for England - 2005-2015: 

[2] NHS Constitution for England: