Plan to reduce prescription medicines for Sheffield patients

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Patients in Sheffield may soon be offered fewer or cheaper medicines on prescription in a bid to save millions for the city’s NHS.

All GPs in the city have been written to by the NHS Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group to ask them if they would consider changing or reducing some medicines they prescribe.

The CCG said offering patients non-branded medicines rather than more expensive alternatives could alone save £2.7m per year to be spent on other areas of patient care.

Other suggestions include reducing the amount of paracetamol and gluten-free products that are currently given to patients for short-term illnesses.

Dr Zak McMurray, the CCG’s Medical Director and Sheffield GP, said: “It’s no secret that nationwide the NHS is having to make changes, due to an ageing population and all the financial pressures that brings.

“We were not surprised to see an increase in prescribing, and most of it will be justified prescribing to cater for our patients’ changing needs, but where we find that long-term something is going to cost the NHS more than it has previously we have to look at how we can manage that.

“Asking GPs if they will support us by making some small prescribing changes is one of the ways we think we can ensure that spending is prioritised around great patient care and medicines that are essential for saving lives.

“If GPs indicate they support us with our proposals, we will then talk to our patients and the public, but I believe most people will agree that without infinite resources it’s important that we spend NHS monies where they are most needed.

“For example, over the counter paracetamol can cost as little as 19p for a pack of 16 but it costs the NHS over four times more than this when it is prescribed.

“That doesn’t however mean we won’t be prescribing it for people who have long-term conditions and really need it on an ongoing basis for pain management.

“Gluten-free products have been prescribed by the NHS historically for people with coeliac conditions, again we don’t propose to stop that but we are just asking GPs to have a discussion with the patient first about what they really need prescribing now that gluten free foods are more readily available. Gluten free bread can cost around £6 per loaf to the NHS but approximately £2 per loaf in the supermarket.

Dr McMurray added: “The other common sense changes we are proposing are suggestions around choosing the cheaper agent when two are available, for example, using gabapentin rather than pregabalin – many practices are already doing that and if all practices changed we would have £2.7m more this year to spend on patient care.”

He added: “We are also suggesting a reduction in low-dose Vitamin D prescribing – low income families are already eligible for free Vitamin D via the national Healthy Start scheme and over the counter low dose vitamin D supplements are inexpensive.

“Over the coming years, the NHS will have to do many things differently, and looking at common sense changes, such as these prescribing suggestions, are ways that we can really make sure patients benefit from the taxpayer pound and not organisations such as pharmaceutical companies.

“The CCG is committed to being open and honest and having conversations with patients and the public and medical professionals about whatever changes we have to consider with a view to spending Sheffield’s NHS monies on the best, highest quality health care for the city.”