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More OTC use will save NHS £1.7 billion a year, claims report


More OTC use will save NHS £1.7 billion a year, claims report

By Neil Trainis

Encouraging people to use more over-the-counter medicines will save the NHS £1.7 billion each year, according to research commissioned by the Proprietary Association of Great Britain.

A report by the consultancy firm Frontier Economics on behalf of the PAGB claimed 33 million people in the UK had at least one self-treatable illness in the last year which went untreated but by using an OTC medicine, they can “effectively treat their illnesses”, improve their health and “experience a better quality of life.”

It said 25 to 48 million GP appointments and five to 10 million A&E visits account for self-treatable conditions but if those were all substituted for OTCs and self-care, the NHS would save between £1.7bn and £3.2bn each year.

The report, which highlighted that 96 per cent of the population experience at least one self-treatable illness every year and 43 per cent has more than four conditions, said for every £1 spent by consumers in the £3.3 billion OTC market, the sector contributes £1 to the economy in wages and exports, the economy saves £5.40 in avoided workplace absences and the NHS saves £1.90 in prescription and appointment costs.

The report also said every £1 spent on OTCs generates £8.40 of “economic and social benefit.” In total, it added, the value the OTC sector brings to avoided work absence equated to £18 billion and £6.4 billion in NHS prescription and appointment cost savings while consumers’ “quality of life benefit” may be worth £15 billion a year.

“In other words, for every £1 an individual spends on OTCs, they get approximately £4.50 back in quality of life benefit,” the report said.

It said 983 million OTC packs were sold in the UK last year and consumers spend an average of £4.50 on 1.3 packs of OTCs every month. It estimated OTCs generate £14.9 billion in “wellbeing savings” annually. The report also said reclassifying or “switching” medicines from prescription-only to OTC status may lead to an increase in OTC use.

“This could come through individuals using the reclassified OTC versions of the drug instead of relying on prescriptions. Or alternatively, individuals who do not currently treat their illnesses could use the reclassified OTCs instead,” it said.

“Through both mechanisms, increased OTC use from reclassification could generate further NHS savings and economic benefits.”

However, the report cautioned that increasing OTC use as a result of reclassification depended on the level of demand for a particular drug, its unit costs, if patients are willing to switch from prescriptions and the extent to which prescribing practices change following reclassification.

“While positive steps have been taken to tackle the challenges facing primary healthcare, this new report shows that expanding self-care for common ailments and minor injuries will be a vital part of the solution to easing pressure on primary care services and should be prioritised as an area for expansion,” said PAGB CEO Michelle Riddalls.

She said the benefits of self-care and wider use of OTC medicines coupled with “expert advice that is available from community pharmacies” could generate “enormous dividends in terms of NHS savings, freeing up GP appointments, cutting A&E waiting times and improving health outcomes.”



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