Responding to NHS England’s consultation on guidance to restrict prescriptions for over-the-counter medicines, Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said: “NHS England is proposing to draw a new line between when the NHS will help someone, and when citizens are required to fall back on their own private resources. This may or may not be a good idea, but it certainly shouldn’t be motivated by a funding crisis, as it clearly is today.

“Nor should it be done without sanction by Parliament – though to be fair, it was Parliament that failed to vote the NHS the money it needs in the first place.

“At the time of its previous consultation, we warned NHS England that changes of this sort hold dangers for the relationship between GPs and patients. GPs will be asked to implement guidance involving a complex set of criteria and exceptions. Mistakes are bound to happen, and for some patients a GP appointment will come to feel more like a benefits assessment, where they wait to find out at the end whether they will receive support or not – and sadly we know there are major shortcomings with that system.

“We have always agreed that it is counterintuitive for the NHS to be paying pounds for something that the individual can buy for pence, as can sometimes – but certainly not always – be the case for over-the-counter medicines. But applying this principle to the complex needs of patients in the real world, without causing many to lose out for all sorts of reasons, will be extremely difficult.

“In our response to the consultation we will be advising NHS England on clarifying crucial issues such as what this means for patients who currently receive free prescriptions – it is not clear whether they fall within the proposed exception for ‘social vulnerability’, for instance. We will also promote the consultation to patients and encourage as many as possible to respond directly. Unfortunately it seems inevitable that media coverage will cause many patients to be worried about what these proposals mean for them – some will be worried needlessly, but nobody needs extra anxiety over their heathcare just before Christmas.”

Notes to editors:

The consultation paper notes that the Patients Association attended a pre-consultation meeting with NHS England and NHS Clinical Commissioners, along with other patient groups. This was a discussion event, and attendance does not imply any endorsement of the proposals.

The Patients Association’s full position on over-the-counter medicines prior to today’s announcement can be read in our response to the consultation on ‘low value’ medicines

The Patients Association is a member of the Prescription Charges Coalition, which campaigns for free prescriptions for all people with long term conditions. Today’s announcement does not affect the exemptions list for prescription charges, which is controlled by the Department of Health, not NHS England.