NHS spending millions on prescriptions for over-the-counter items


The NHS is spending millions of pounds a year on prescriptions for items that can be bought in high street pharmacies.

Household brands such as Vaseline, Rennie, Strepsils, Benadryl and Bazuka account for hundreds of thousands of prescriptions every year, NHS data shows.

The figures for England, analysed by the Press Association, show multivitamins made up 1.33 million prescriptions in 2015 at a spend of more than £3.8 million.

One of the biggest spends was for antacids - mostly Rennie and Gaviscon - with more than four million prescriptions at just over £26 million.

Calpol accounted for 12,605 at a cost of £84,997, while Benadryl made up 97,629 prescriptions at a £1.55 million spend.

Cough medicines including Benylin, Buttercup, Boots own brand and Covonia were also available on prescription.

Millions of pounds worth of mouthwash was prescribed, with one type available for £2.99 in Superdrug accounting for a £1.8 million spend, and a further £964,399 was spent on Corsodyl.

Hand sanitiser was prescribed, while Strepsils, Halls, Throaties and Tyrozets lozenges accounted for more than £25,000.

In 2015, £9.27 billion was spent on all prescriptions dispensed in the community - a 4.68% rise on the £8.85 billion in 2014, the data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) showed.

In 2015, 1.08 billion prescription items were dispensed - a 1.79% rise from the 1.06 billion in 2014.

Around 90% of prescriptions are free of charge to patients. Critics said too much money was being "sqaundered" on bathroom cabinet items but the Royal College of GPs said doctors issued prescriptions in the best interests of patients.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: "The NHS is under enormous financial pressure right now.

"Every penny in the NHS must be spent appropriately and wisely. Practitioners must always make sure that prescription items are necessary.

"However, patients also have responsibilities to not waste the NHS's scarce resources and should endeavour to pay for everyday items such as cold remedies out of their own pocket."

The data showed thousands spent on head lice treatments, with the Hedrin head lice treatment accounting for 41,560 prescriptions at £279,143 while the bill for Full Marks was £12,591.

Thousands of pounds was also allocated to Nytol (£122,079) alongside Kalms herbal sleeping pills, Berocca, Lemsip, Day Nurse, Alka-Seltzer and Sudafed.

Bonjela made up over 59,000 prescriptions at a cost of £152,272 while Bazuka cost £133,875.

Dr Maureen Baker, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: "Prescribing is a core skill in general practice and family doctors will always prescribe in the best interests of our patients.

"It is certainly important to be mindful of the cost of prescriptions to the NHS, especially if the medications and products are readily available over the counter."

But she said "in some cases these products are very expensive and decisions might be made to offer them on prescription if there is a medical reason for doing so".

She added: "If patients are in a position that they can afford to buy over the counter products, then we would urge them to do so without a prescription."

Mark Littlewood, from the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: "At a time when the NHS is facing dire straits financially and consequently limiting provision of potentially life-saving cancer drugs and vital operations, it beggars belief that they can justify forking out for prescriptions for everyday household goods such as throat sweets.

"Priority should be placed on providing patient care for those who are most in need and ensuring doctors and nurses are well-equipped in order to do so."

Dia Chakravarty, political director from the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Every department is having to find necessary savings and rarely a day goes by without NHS authorities asking for more money.

"What justification might there possibly be then for wasting taxpayers' money on household items? Hard-pressed families expect the NHS budget to go towards cancer drugs and MRI machines, not to be squandered."

An NHS England spokesman said: "GPs are responsible for only issuing appropriate prescriptions to their patients based on individual need, and these figures underline the importance of ensuring that's what happens everywhere."