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). 
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.” 
Contact Andrew McCracken, head of Communications at National Voices, for further information: 020 3176 0737, 07739981846, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stats and facts
- 1,083.6 million prescription items were dispensed overall in 2015, and 89.7 per cent of them were dispensed free of charge: https://digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB20664
- A list of criteria for prescription charge exemptions is available on the NHS Choices website: https://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcosts/Pages/Prescriptioncosts.aspx
- Of those people living in England with long-term conditions who do currently pay for their prescriptions, 33% have not collected a prescription due to the cost. http://www.prescriptionchargescoalition.org.uk/evidence.html
- All prescriptions are dispensed free of charge in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
 Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community, Statistics for England - 2005-2015: https://digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB20664
 NHS Constitution for England: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-nhs-constitution-for-england