Doctors have stopped prescribing painkillers and other drugs which are available over the counter as they attempt to find millions of pounds of budget savings.
The decision, made by the clinical commissioning group which funds GP surgeries in Rutland, came into force on Monday.
A similar proposal for doctors in the Stamford area is currently being considered.
As well as painkillers such as paracetemol, other commonly-available drugs such as cough medicines, hayfever tablets and coldsore treatments will no longer be available on prescription. Also affected are sunscreen, anti-fungal nail treatments, medicated shampoo, mouthwash and mouth ulcer treatments, travel vaccines, indigestion remedies and colic drops.
Patients will instead have to buy these medicines from a pharmacy or supermarket – even those who are exempt from paying prescription charges and who have previously received them free, although doctors will be able to use their discretion.
East Leicestershire and Rutland Clinical Commissioning Group (ELRCCG) has taken the decision as it attempts to find savings of £18 million this year – about four per cent of its £409.4million annual budget.
Dr Richard Palin, a GP and ELRCCG Governing Body Member, said: “As national and local NHS budgets are tightened, we must ensure we spend our money wisely.
“As a CCG we need to find £18 million in savings this year. It costs the NHS around three times as much to prescribe these medicines than it does for people to buy them at the pharmacy. By asking patients to buy medicines such as paracetamol, hayfever treatments and cold remedies from their pharmacist or supermarket, we can use the savings to fund essential health care.”
It is hoped that the decision will help ELRCCG save £371,000 annually.
Some patients will be exempt from the change if they have particular conditions – for example those who need paracetamol to manage chronic pain. They are advised to discuss it with their GPs.
Before deciding to stop doctors prescribing certain drugs, the ELRCCG took clinical advice and worked with Healthwatch Leicestershire to seek the views of patients. Its survey was publicised in Rutland. The majority of respondents reported they would be affected either ‘not at all’ or ‘only a little’ by the changes.
Dr Palin added: “Other CCGs have already taken this step and we would rather make this change than have to look at taking funding away from other more essential healthcare services.
“If patients find their prescriptions are discontinued but they believe they shouldn’t have been, we would urge them to talk to their GP in the first instance. If patients are concerned they can contact the medicines management team at the CCG.”
Healthwatch Rutland said in a statement that it will be alert to any problems arising from the decision.
South Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group, which funds doctors surgeries in the Stamford area, is currently consulting with the public on plans to restrict the prescription of such medicines, as are the three other CCGs in Lincolnshire.
Dr Kevin Hill, GP and Chair of South Lincolnshire CCG, said: “People are living longer and often requiring an increased level of support from the NHS, and we have to do something if we are to be able to continue providing the safest and highest quality health services to our patients.”
The consultation will run until November 18, with any changes coming into effect from December 1. To take part, visit www.surveymonkey.com/r/ LincolnshireCCGsMedicines Management
The current NHS prescription charge is £8.40 per item in England. However, children under 16; the over-60s; pregnant women; those in receipt of benefits; and people with specified medical conditions are exempt from paying.