Erratic supplies of vitamin D drugs and the rising cost of unlicensed alternatives are wasting millions in NHS cash, GP leaders have warned.
NHS Information Centre data show the supply problem has forced GPs to prescribe expensive unlicensed medicines costing up to £2,400.
The GPC criticised the DH for failing to help GPs increase the use of supplements, which can prevent expensive conditions such as bone disease.
Primary care prescribing costs for vitamin D have tripled since 2004 and will hit £100m by 2013 (GP, 15 February). Expensive special-order vitamin D drugs are a key factor in this.
A standard course of cholecalciferol tablets to treat deficiency costs about £16. But the NHS spent up to £2,400 per prescription on liquid versions in July-September 2011.
GPC negotiator Dr Chaand Nagpaul said GPs were struggling to obtain supplies of licensed vitamin D products for deficiency treatment. PCTs have repeatedly changed prescribing advice as the supply waxes and wanes, he said.
Dr Nagpaul said: 'There's a myriad of policies for obtaining products,' which has caused 'confusion' and led to higher use of specials, and called for more clarity from commissioners.
DH officials have admitted uptake of free vitamin D supplements under the Healthy Start scheme remains undersubscribed. The UK's four CMOs recently wrote to GPs calling for more awareness of the problem and encouraging them to alert patients to the free supplements scheme.
Dr Nagpaul said: 'Many GPs received this letter, but were not (told) how to implement the recommendations.' A DH spokesman said the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition was reviewing advice on vitamin D.