RPS warns against denying access to paracetamol prescriptions

RPS warns against denying access to paracetamol prescriptions

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has cautioned against removing paracetamol as a prescription-based treatment on the NHS.

NHS England is currently considering taking paracetamol off its prescription bill as a means of saving money for the health service, but the RPS has described the move as a "deceptively simple solution" that will have downsides for patients that may not have been taken into account.

Figures revealed to MPs and reported by the Pharmaceutical Journal show that the NHS spent £70 million on prescriptions for paracetamol in England in the past financial year, with around 21 million items dispensed between 2016-17 at a net ingredient cost of £3.23.

This is lower than the five-year high of £86.8 million in 2014-15 - when 23 million items were dispensed at a net ingredient cost of £3.72 - and is also a step down from the £84.8 million paracetamol bill for 2015-16.

Nevertheless, NHS England confirmed earlier this month that it is pushing ahead with plans to review the availability of prescriptions for low-value items - including paracetamol, gluten-free foods and omega-3 fish oil - with the intention of saving around £128 million a year.

In the case of paracetamol, the logic suggests that this drug need not be prescribed as it is easily available over the counter, but the RPS noted some patients require a much more regular dose than they could feasibly be expected to afford on their own.

Sandra Gidley, chair of RPS England, said: "Just because something is available over the counter doesn't mean people should be denied an effective treatment on prescription.

"Those being prescribed large amounts of paracetamol need it to ease the pain of conditions like arthritis, nerve pain or fibromyalgia. This is needed on a daily basis to enable them to function, which is entirely different to occasional use of paracetamol for headaches by the general population."

She added that those who cannot afford to buy medicines are likely to see their illness deteriorate, putting more strain on services and costing the NHS more money in the long run.