The commissioner estimates the 18 “ineffective, over-priced and low-value” treatments cost taxpayers £141 million a year and “should generally not be prescribed”, it said in a statement last Friday (July 21).
In its consultation – which will run until October 21 – NHS England also asks for views on 3,200 prescription items – such as headlice treatments and nasal sprays – which are “readily available” over the counter, and which it estimates currently cost taxpayers £645m a year.
The consultation will result in prescribing guidance for clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), it said.
NHS England is “also supportive of restricting availability of gluten-free foods on prescription, which costs £26m a year, and is currently subject to a Department of Health consultation”.
Graham Jackson, GP and co-chair chair of NHS Clinical Commissioners (NHSCC) – the independent organisation representing CCGs which has partnered with NHS England – said the consultation is “an important part” of looking at what the NHS should provide.
“We are pleased to have worked with NHS England to identify products that could be considered low priority for NHS funding, for reasons including limited clinical effectiveness or the availability of cost-effective alternatives,” Dr Jackson said.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said while “ineffective and unsafe medicines should not be prescribed on the NHS”, it has “serious concerns” about the proposed restrictions on prescribing clinically effective medicines to treat common conditions, such as headlice or athlete’s foot.
RPS England board chair Sandra Gidley said expecting everyone to pay for medicines for common conditions would “further increase inequalities”, because “those on low incomes will be disproportionately affected”.
“They should not be denied treatment because of an inability to pay,” Ms Gidley said.
“People with minor health problems should be treated via NHS pharmacy minor ailment schemes,” she added.
Scrapping homeopathy welcomed
However, the RPS did welcome the inclusion of homeopathy in the list of 18 products.
“Removing homeopathy, which has no scientific or pharmacological basis, from NHS supply is long overdue,” it said.
NHS England's chief executive Simon Stevens described homeopathy as "at best a placebo and a misuse of scarce NHS funds".
Last month, C+D hosted a roundtable debate with NHSCC co-chair Graham Jackson and Ms Gidley, among others, to discuss plans to scrap certain products from prescriptions. The results of the debate will be published on the C+D website in August.