NHS considers scrapping gluten-free prescriptions
NHS England is considering scrapping gluten-free foods, pain medication fentanyl, and other drugs and services on prescription.
The decision to review certain medications is based on the recommendation of NHS Clinical Commissioners (NHSCC) – the independent organisation representing clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in England – which identified 10 items and services as being “low priority” for NHS funding.
Removing these from prescriptions could release up to £128 million back into the health service to fund “high priority areas” such as mental health and primary care, NHSCC argued.
NHSCC split the 10 items into three categories – those where there is a "lack of evidence of robust clinical effectiveness"; products where a "more cost-effective" alternative is available; and those that are deemed low priority "due to the nature of the product". See the full list below.
It listed gluten-free foods in the third category because they are now "readily and inexpensively available" in supermarkets, it said in a statement today (March 28).
It described fentanyl, which is commonly used to treat severe chronic pain, as "much more expensive" in comparison to morphine. NHSCC estimates that the NHS spent £10.1million on the drug in the last 12 months.
Making the most of CCG budgets
Julie Woods, chief executive of NHSCC, said the financial challenges the NHS faces at the moment are “unprecedented”.
“This is not about cutting essential services or restricting access for patients to services they need, it is about allowing local clinical leaders to make the best and most efficient use of the money CCGs have available to spend,” Ms Wood said.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, spoke about the plans in an interview with the Daily Mail today, in which he stressed the need to tackle “inefficiency and waste” in the health service.
“There’s £114m being spent on medicines for upset tummies, haemorrhoids, travel sickness and indigestion. That’s even before you get on to the £22m-plus on gluten-free that you can also now get at Morrisons, Lidl or Tesco,” Mr Stevens told the newspaper.
RPS "surprised" at homeopathy omission
In response to the prescribing review, Royal Pharmaceutical Society English pharmacy board chair Sandra Gidley said the announcement could be “interpreted as a attack” on the principle of providing treatment free at the point of use.
“We are concerned [about] how a blanket ban of products to treat life-long conditions such as coeliac disease and chronic pain could have unintended consequences.”
However, Ms Gidley acknowledged the need for the NHS to be cost-effective.
“We are surprised that homeopathy – which has no scientific evidence – is not on the list for review," Ms Gidley added.