Most GPs support ban on prescribing OTC drugs

Close to two thirds of GPs support a ban on prescribing drugs that are available over the counter, a GPonline survey has revealed.

Some 62% of 425 GPs responding to the poll said they were in favour of such bans, compared with around a quarter (23%) who said they did not support it all. A further 15% were undecided.

Many GPs said they believed the move would help reduce NHS costs and help cut down on unnecessary appointments.

‘The NHS cannot afford this and it leads to a waste of consultation time,’ said one, while another warned that ‘the country cannot afford not to’ stop OTC prescribing.

NHS England is currently consulting on whether to introduce bans on prescribing 3,200 OTC drugs, which is set to close in October.

OTC drug bans

But many CCGs are already imposing bans in efforts to cut costs. The GPonline poll found that close to one in three (30%) GPs work in an area where their local CCG has implemented bans or restrictions on GPs prescribing drugs available OTC.

Only around half (56%) said there were no restrictions in their local area, while 15% were unsure.

The GPC has previously warned that GPs could leave themselves open to complaints if they follow through with these recommendations, and has urged politicians to enshrine any bans within the contract to protect GPs, rather than issuing guidance. Several GP respondents agreed.

‘I overall agree with the plan to ban prescription of OTC medications, but would need this action to come from on high rather than be subject to complaints about this,’ a GP said. ‘Give me the contact details of who could be complained to so I can forward the complaints on, rather than any measly statements about final decisions resting with the individual doctor.’

Others said they supported a crackdown, but only if there was some flexibility where patient affordability is a problem.

One said: ‘While I support this ban, other things need to change to support it. Patients need to be able to buy more than 32 paracetamol or ibuprofen for a start, those on low income need exemption cards for young children, pharmacists need more training – our's just send them to us for a script.’


GPs against the proposals warned that ‘low income families are liable to suffer’ under the measures.

‘This is a regressive move amplifying the inverse care law,’ said one GP. ‘Any savings will be offset by increasing delayed presentations.’

‘The NHS was founded to ensure that people with low income got the treatment they needed,’ another added.

‘People using food banks or who are homeless cannot afford OTC medication, so we are creating a situation where lice, for example, will not be treated and people will have to choose between food, heating, clothes or medication.’

One respondent warned the move will make it easier for patients to complain about GPs. They said: ‘People often come with minor problems or worries and get upset if not taken seriously and sympathetically.

‘Giving small OTC meds occasionally can help address their concerns and make people feel appreciated. A GP refusing to treat a sick person or child because "they don't want to waste money" will make patients upset and complain and destroy the [doctor-patient relationship].’

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