NHS spent £70m issuing paracetamol as over-the-counter charges fraction of cost

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The NHS spent more than £70 million giving paracetamol to patients in England last year despite the medication being available over the counter at a fraction of the cost.

Family doctors issued more than 21,740,00 prescriptions of the everyday painkillers at a cost of £3.23 per item, despite the pills being sold for as little as 19p in supermarkets.

The 2016/17 figure of £70.18 million, revealed in response to a written parliamentary question tabled by Labour MP Grahame Morris, shows the bill has fallen from £84.86 million in 2015/16 and £86.88 million the year before.

The total bill for the five-year period is close to £400 million (£398,875,111), according to reimbursement price data provided by health minister Steve Brine.

It comes after NHS England announced plans to develop new national guidelines cracking down on prescriptions for medicines available in supermarkets and chemists such as gluten-free foods and travel vaccines.

Mr Morris, MP for Easington, said it was irrational to provide paracetamol on prescription if the cost is 10 times higher than a GP supplying it directly.

He told the Press Association: "I believe all drugs patients require should be available on the NHS.

"At a time when the Government is placing extreme funding pressure on our health service, we should seek avenues to make savings where they will not impact patient services.

"It seems irrational to provide paracetamol on prescription if the cost is 10 times higher than it would be for a GP to simply supply such items directly to patients, as they can often be purchased for pennies on the high street.

"There will be a number of low-cost readily available drugs which could be supplied in such a manner.

"However, I am very cautious. I am simply asking questions in the hope others can suggest suitable methods as there are often unforeseen consequences to what seems to be relatively simple issues to resolve.

"We must maintain the provision of basic drugs on the NHS but find more efficient ways to provide them to patients"

Mr Brine, when outlining the figures issued to Mr Morris, said: "The cost reported is at reimbursement prices.

"This does not take account of the margin that pharmacies earn on the medicines they dispense.

"This margin is subsequently taken into account as contributing towards the target level of funding for community pharmacy as part of the community pharmacy contractual framework."