NHS chiefs have admitted they are spending hundreds of millions on treatments that patients should have bought themselves, including vitamins, anti-dandruff shampoo and indigestion pills.
A whopping £48m was spent last year on vitamin pills, £38.2m on paracetamol or other low level pain killers, £22.8m on laxatives, £14.8m on eye drops, £14.5m on dermatitis cream, £7.5m on indigestion pills or liquids, £5.5m on babies’ teething gel, £4.5m on travel sickness pills and £3m on athlete’s foot powder or cream.
It is estimated that £569m per year is spent on prescriptions for minor conditions.
The spend alone on vitamins could provide funding for 1,872 more community nurses.
Health officials are now looking to cut back on the £136m a year that is spent on low cost remedies that may not be doing much to treat the problem.
A report has revealed stunning levels of spending on people’s minor ailments that could be left to heal untreated or with over-the-counter products.
And the review will also attempt to slash the use of treatments with “low clinical effectiveness” – products where there is little evidence they actually work.
Other large spends include £5.5m on mouth ulcer gel, £5.3m on sting and bite cream, £2.8m on diarrhoea pills, £1.1m on hayfever tablets, over £1m on probiotics, £1.3m on cough and cold treatments and £500,000 on haemorrhoid treatments.
The NHS says every £1m it saves could provide 39 more community nurses, 270 hip replacements, 66 breast cancer treatments or 1,040 more cateract operations.
A review has been launched into the value of handing out many of the above treatments when in many cases the conditions will get better on their own or could be treated just as well with over-the-counter treatments.
NHS bosses say exceptions will be made for long term conditions and more complex issues that are unresponsive to over-the-counter remedies.
NHS chief executive, Simon Stevens, said: “To do the best for our patients and for taxpayers it’s vital the NHS uses its funding well.
“This consultation gives the public the opportunity to help family doctors decide how best to deploy precious NHS resources, freeing-up money from the drugs bill to reinvest in modern treatments for major conditions such as cancer, mental health and emergency care.”
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “What remains imperative - and we will be making this clear in our consultation response - is that no blanket bans are imposed, and GPs will retain the right to make clinical decisions about prescribing appropriately for our patients based on the unique physical, psychological and social factors potentially impacting on their health.”
The consultation comes just weeks after the health service’s board voted to cut a number of items from the NHS “prescription list” in England.
Officials agreed 13 items deemed “ineffective, over-priced and low value treatments” - including homeopathy, herbal remedies and some painkillers - should no longer be routinely prescribed.