It costs just a few pence to buy over the counter at supermarkets and pharmacies, yet Kirklees GPs spent more than £1m prescribing simple paracetamol and ibuprofen pills to patients last year.
Hundreds of thousands of patients are being given NHS prescriptions for the cheap drugs – which can cost as little as 16p for a packet of 16.
Doctors say they prescribe basic painkillers for those who need higher quantities than can legally be bought over the counter.
UK law currently restricts retailers to selling only 32 pills of either drug at a time.
But analysis by the Examiner shows Kirklees’ two main health bodies are being forced to pay roughly triple what members of the public pay for their pills at high street shops.
The prices show while the majority of the public pay a penny a pill for paracetamol, the NHS is being charged almost 3p a pill.
The NHS Drug Tariff reveals 32 paracetamol tablets cost the CCGs 92p – compared to roughly 32p in shops. Ibuprofen tablets cost the NHS £1 for 24 – compared to about 25p for 16 in shops.
A retired Huddersfield GP has told the Examiner he was not surprised the NHS was paying more and said the issue needed to be looked at.
“It increases GPs’ workloads because of the number of people who want it on prescription,” he said. “A lot of parents on free prescriptions expect it instead of having to buy it.
“There has been calls to take all over-the-counter drugs off prescription. People could just go to the chemists.”
The ex-GP, who does not want to be named, said it was common to write prescriptions for 224 paracetamol at a time.
Figures show that in 2014/15 Greater Huddersfield CCG spent £443,650 on paracetamol and £146,695 on ibuprofen. Their North Kirklees counterparts spent £339,651 and £123,166 respectively. The total spend is just over £1m.
A further spend on “paracetamol combination” products, such as ones with codeine in, is in excess of £739,000 across the two CCGs.
Some patients use a high level of paracetamol to supplement more powerful drugs such as morphine.
The seven figure bill is paid to the NHS Business Services Authority who in turn pay pharmacies for their NHS work.
The price members of the public are charged for a prescription goes into a central NHS pot.
Dr Ramesh Edara, local GP and NHS Greater Huddersfield Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) governing body medicines management lead said: “The majority of the prescribing of paracetamol and ibuprofen in Greater Huddersfield is for patients with chronic pain conditions where it is difficult to purchase the quantity of tablets needed over the counter.
“Paracetamol and ibuprofen are safe and effective first line treatments for chronic pain. The CCG will be looking into the quantity of prescribing of these products for minor self-limiting conditions”.
A spokeswoman for the CCGs said there was no current plan to try and limit the amount spent on the basic drugs.
She also said they did not hold data on what proportion of the spending on the basic pain killers was to people eligible for free prescriptions, such as the elderly or those on benefits.
She said: “The CCG does not have a policy in place restricting prescribing of these products at this moment in time.”