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Brine denies blacklisting headlice prescriptions is causing 'epidemic'

NHS England blacklisted headlice treatments from prescriptions in March
NHS England blacklisted headlice treatments from prescriptions in March

Pharmacy minister Steve Brine has denied that NHS England’s blacklisting of headlice treatments on prescriptions is leading to an “epidemic” in schools.

In March, NHS England published guidance advising GPs to “curb prescribing” for 35 conditions (see the full list here) including headlice – which the commissioner argued is “a minor illness and suitable for self care and treatment with items that can easily be purchased over the counter from a pharmacy”.

In a parliamentary debate yesterday (November 27), Emma Hardy – Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle – told Mr Brine that she had “met people from the charity Community Hygiene Concern, which provides cheap, reusable and effective bug-busting kits for less than £5”.

Ms Hardy said: “However, because of NHS prescription guidance changes, these kits are no longer available, which threatens an epidemic of headlice in our schools.”

“Surely headlice should not be considered a minor ailment?” asked Ms Hardy, who also called upon the minister to write to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens and “encourage him to meet me and Community Hygiene Concern to look at this issue again”.

Mr Brine responded that he does “not believe there is an epidemic because of NHS England’s actions”.

“Clinical experts in the NHS advise that headlice can be safely and effectively treated by wet combing,” said Mr Brine, who referred to his “very recent, personal experience of doing this” with his own children.

“Chemical treatment is recommended only in exceptional circumstances,” he stressed.

However, Mr Brine agreed to “facilitate” the meeting between Ms Hardy, Community Hygiene Concern and Mr Stevens.

C+D has published advice on how pharmacy teams in England can communicate with patients confused by the restrictions in headlice treatment prescribing.

Has your pharmacy experienced a rise in patients asking about headlice?

Aldosterone antagonist, Locum pharmacist

I work in London and I hardly see prescriptions for headlice treatments, strange that.

Also wet combing is surely effective if done correctly and regularly.

V K P, Community pharmacist

Mr Brine and the NHS should get the community hygeine concern to fund the prescriptions for the head lice treatments. Rather then educating and empower the epidemic hit population with hygeine tips, they want the NHS to bare the cost of these epidemic population. even better, the charity can get all these people in and wet comb their hair. that would save alot of money and time. what do you reckon people?

Brine is absolutely right in what he said, blimey I never thought I'd ever be saying that.

I think what has happened is the MP who has raised the issue has listened to a few loud voices in their community. I don't want to sound like a snob, I don't work in affluent area myself. But with a bit of good advice, even patients who are struggling financially seem to afford £1 for conditioner, £2 for a decent comb and maybe £2.50 for some tea tree oil. Seems to work fine based on the feedback I get.

Marc Borson, Community pharmacist

No epidemic in north manchester. I wonder who press released this crap. t and r perhaps?

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Can't say I've seen anything along the lines of an epidemic.

H W, Community pharmacist

I don't think I have ever seen these products on a prescription anywhere, so find it hard to believe this blacklisting would be responsible for an epidemic.

And in what world is headlice NOT seen as a minor ailment? How many hospitalisations a year are due to untreated headlice?

Caroline Jones, Community pharmacist

Totally agree, the public need to start taking responsibility for their own health!

Combing is a very effective economical alternative to the lotions and potions! Plus it catching outbreaks's more likely that certain parents rely on the lotions; however, don't use combing effectively as 'they can't be bothered' and 'it's much easier to use a lotion when you get it for free'


Caroline Jones, Community pharmacist

Unfortunately, even when we give bucket loads of this stuff away, there is always the 'regulars' who keep infecting the rest.....they either don't use appropriately, or are flogging it to make some money as they got it for free.


Pharmacy Tech, Pharmaceutical Adviser

The bug busting kit is a pack of combs to use with your own shop bought conditioner, surely a fine tooth comb (that can bought fairly cheaply) can be used as an alternative?

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