a westminster imageApril 20 2018

Doctors have not been prevented from prescribing over-the counter medicines, but should use proper clinical judgement, a health minister has said.

A question was raised following last month’s publication of guidelines for clinical commissioning groups about prescribing OTC medicines. Caerphilly MP Wayne David had asked what steps were being taken to ensure the guidance for CCGs does “not contravene the principle in the NHS constitution whereby access to NHS services is based on clinical need and not an individual’s ability to pay and NHS services are free of charge except in limited circumstances.”

In a written answer, Health Minister Steve Brine MP said the guidance “has not introduced any charges for NHS services; it does however outline appropriate prescribing for the 35 conditions specified.”

As the guidance is not a clinical guideline, it “does not affect a GP’s ability to determine what the cause of specified symptoms are, to make a diagnosis and then to act appropriately. Furthermore, any such guidance does not preclude the ability of an individual to access their GP for whatever symptoms they are experiencing, to seek advice and appropriate treatment,” he said.

Mr Brine pointed out that there are several exceptions outlined in the guidance where OTC prescribing should continue. Among these are: 

  • long term or complex conditions that require over the counter treatments;
  • vulnerable patients;
  • to treat side effects of other prescription only drugs.

Hansard ‘NHS: Fees and Charges: Written question – 135104’    
NHS England ‘Conditions for which over the counter items should not routinely be prescribed in primary care: Guidance for CCGs’. Published March 29 2018