Buy your medicines over the counter - it's easier, quicker, cheaper

OTC medicines #HelpMyNHS

Did you know that it costs the NHS more than £35 to prescribe antihistamines through a GP appointment, but you can buy your own over the counter at a pharmacy for just 99p?

With many common summer ailments - including hay fever, travel sickness or an upset stomach - you can care for yourself using medicines bought over the counter at a pharmacy. You won’t need a prescription so it’s easier, quicker, cheaper and frees up millions of pounds for NHS frontline services such as cancer treatments and GP services. 

Last year we spent almost £150,000 on antihistamine prescriptions in East Sussex - much of which could have been purchased directly over the counter at a local pharmacy for a fraction of the price.

Prescriptions for the treatment of mild to moderate hay fever are now not routinely being offered by GPs, as the condition can be appropriately treated at home. 

“We are urging patients to help their NHS by buying some medicines from their local pharmacy or as part of their basic household shop and using them to self-treat minor illnesses rather than seeking a prescription through a GP appointment,” said Dr David Warden, Chair at NHS Hastings and Rother Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) who are responsible for buying and planning health services for the local population. 

“By encouraging more of our patients to self-care by buying over the counter medicines such as paracetamols and antihistamines, we will have more money to spend on nurses, cancer treatments and GP services. It costs the NHS much more to prescribe these drugs than it does for a patient to buy them. This is not an efficient use of available resources – the NHS belongs to all of us so please use it responsibly.”

You can help your NHS by buying your own medicines for:

  • hayfever and other allergies

  • indigestion or upset stomach pain and fever 

  • dry skin 

  • coughs, colds and sore throats

Of course, GPs will still be able to prescribe these medicines in exceptional circumstances, such as when patients are experiencing long-term or more complex conditions, but in the majority of cases, getting a prescription for travel sickness pills or anti-dandruff shampoo just isn’t necessary. 

Pharmacists do so much more than dispense medicines – they can assess your symptoms, advise you on how to care for yourself and help you buy the medicine you need. You don’t need an appointment and many pharmacies are open late and at weekends.

The NHS nationally is currently facing significant challenges as it tries to meet an increasing demand on services with restricted finances and resources. People are now living longer and with ever more complex health needs, which are making it more difficult to afford all the health and care services that the NHS currently pays for. 

We have a duty to make sure we do not carry on spending more money than we have and this is something we take very seriously. Every £1million saved on unnecessary prescriptions could instead fund around:

  • 39 community nurses

  • 270 hip replacements

  • 66 treatments for breast cancer 

The NHS belongs to us all so please use it responsibly – #HelpMyNHS

For more information on self-care and local NHS services, visit www.sussexhelpmy.nhs.uk.

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