NHS England has told Pharmacy Magazine it “did not claim that it would save £100m in the first year” after introducing guidance aimed at curbing the prescription of items that are available over the counter in pharmacies and shops.
The health body was responding to a query regarding why savings on OTC prescriptions of £25.9m in the year to January 2019 had fallen far short of what might have been expected after the guidance – which recommends limiting prescriptions of "low value" OTC medicines used for 35 “minor” conditions including haemorrhoids and conjunctivitis – was introduced on March 29 2018.
Launching the guidance, NHS England said it would “free up to almost £100 million for frontline care each year,” with chief executive Simon Stevens saying the aim of the health service was to ‘think like a patient, act like a taxpayer’.
A spokesperson told Pharmacy Magazine: “NHS England did not claim that it would save £100m in the first year after the introduction of the guidance; this is a long-term programme.”
“[The £25.9m figure] also doesn’t take into account the counterfactual potential increase in spend on OTC treatments for patients with short term conditions, or show whether increases in patients with long term conditions, who are not affected by this guidance, or increases in the prices of certain products, have had an impact on the overall spend,” NHS England said.
The spokesperson said: “Local GPs have made strong progress on freeing up funding to spend on frontline care, with the savings made in just eight months enough to fund around 1,000 community nurses.
“Further gains are expected this financial year and into the future as commissioners include the recommendations in their plans.”
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society and others have expressed concern that the guidance risks widening health inequalities by making medicines inaccessible to those who cannot afford them. NHS England responded by making special allowances for groups with characteristics such as mental health issues and lacking the financial means to pay for the medicines they need.