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Greater use of OTC drugs could save NHS £3.1bn per year, report claims

A greater use of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines could save the NHS up to £3.1 billion annually, a new report has claimed.

The report, published today (July 24) and commissioned by the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB), was undertaken by independent analysts at economic consultancy Frontier Economics.

It found that the NHS could save £1.7bn per year through the greater use of existing OTC drugs and a further £1.4bn per year from the reclassification of more prescription-only medications (POMs).

The former would come via the elimination of 25 million GP appointments and five million A&E visits for “self-treatable” conditions, it said.

Read more: MHRA mulls codeine linctus P to POM switch amid ‘recreational’ use concerns

It could also create an additional economic windfall of £350 million annually as a result of employees not having to take time off work for “unnecessary” NHS appointments, it added.

The PAGB, which represents manufacturers of OTC medications, said that encouraging a “more proactive” approach to health by the public and “increasing the appropriate use” of OTC drugs could “make enormous savings for the struggling NHS”.

“Expanding self-care for common ailments and minor injuries will be a vital part of the solution to easing pressure on primary care services and should be prioritised as an area for expansion,” PAGB chief executive Michelle Riddalls said.

“Accelerate reclassification”

The report also estimated that 33 million people in the UK have “at least one self-treatable illness that they ignore and do not treat” per year.

And it said that if future reclassifications reduced NHS prescribing levels and spending by just 5%, this could save the NHS £1.4bn per year across both prescription costs and GP appointments.

This “would cover the entire budget of a large NHS hospital for a year and still leave £383m to train or recruit hundreds of urgently needed doctors and nurses”, Ms Riddalls said.

Read more: P med erectile dysfunction drug to be sold from Boots pharmacies

“Some reclassified medicines are now so widely used many consumers do not realise they were once available on prescription only,” she added, such as Nurofen, Voltarol, Canesten and Imodium.

Ms Riddalls pointed out that medicine switches also allow patients to access treatments for “conditions they may find difficult to discuss with their GP”.

It comes as erectile dysfunction drugs Viagra Connect and Cialis Together have recently seen a reclassification, as well as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drug Gina.

Read more: Maxwellia mulling 'next step' after oxybutynin drug reclassification rejected

Community pharmacist and PAGB advisor Deborah Evans stressed that the reclassification of prescription medicines involves a “rigorous review” by the medicines watchdog.

But she added that the consumer healthcare association is calling for the government to “streamline the process and accelerate reclassification”.

“Raising awareness of the benefits of self-care and encouraging the wider use over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and the expert advice that is available from community pharmacies will deliver enormous dividends in terms of NHS savings, freeing up GP appointments, cutting A&E waiting times and improving health outcomes,” Ms Riddalls said.

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