Are paracetamol users destroying the NHS?
— East Surrey CCG (@EastSurreyCCG) 7 June 2018
Save NHS money stop prescribing paracetamol
There has been a huge campaign recently to highlight the cost of prescribing paracetamol on the NHS. Following on from this, thousands of conversations all over social media about how disgusting it is that the NHS prescribe paracetamol at all considering it costs just 40p for a packet of 16 tablets* from Boots. Whereas it can cost the NHS up to £35 for a prescription from your GP.
At first glance this disparity of pricing is horrifying and as a money blogger, I’m all about saving money. Just not at the expense of people’s health and wellbeing.
I think saving the NHS money where possible is a fantastic plan after all the NHS ended the last financial year with a nearly £1bn deficit. However, people need to look at the bigger picture. Firstly the £35 figure quoted includes the cost to the NHS of your GP appointment. The cost of the prescription itself is around £4 – £10 depending on the brand and quantity of tablets prescribed.
What riles me is that people assume that because the prescription is “only for paracetamol” that there cannot be much wrong with the person needing it. Therefore they should just go to the chemist or a supermarket and buy it. The truth can be very different. I take a regular paracetamol dose because it is proven to make the opioid pain killers I also take work more efficiently. Any step towards better pain control is gratefully appreciated. However, if I was forced to travel from shop to shop to access an adequate supply of paracetamol any benefit would be wiped out plus I’d be left even more exhausted and reliant on others; my care needs costs would go way up and my quality of life down.
The legislation regarding the sale of paracetamol in the UK states that shops may sell packets of paracetamol in pack sizes up to 16 tablets. Pharmacies may sell pack sizes of up to 32 tablets. This is to try and reduce the number of intentional overdoses. Most stores have set their guidelines of only allowing a customer to purchase 2 packets per transaction (3 packets in Poundland) These store guidelines are coded into the till so checkout staff cannot scan more. Pharmacists can use their discretion to sell up to 100 tablets per transaction. Over 100 tablets paracetamol then becomes a prescription-only product.
Due to this legislation and the store guidelines, people like me would need to restock every other day or visit 4 different stores just to get enough medicine for one week. Otherwise, we would have to pay for medical evidence to prove to the pharmacist that we have a genuine need for such a large supply of tablets and that we are not deemed a suicide risk.
The end of paracetamol prescriptions on NHS from May 31st, 2018
From the 31st of May 2018, the NHS will no longer prescribe certain over the counter medicines including paracetamol on the NHS. It is estimated this move will save the NHS millions of pounds.
Is the end of paracetamol prescribing the key to saving the NHS?
Of course, every saving is going to help. If you can afford to buy over the counter medications yourself and can easily access them then I completely advocate that you do so. I just strongly disagree with shaming the chronically ill and very poor.
I don’t think these patients should have to shoulder the full weight of the blame when Big Pharma companies are costing the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds through manipulating drug prices for maximum profits. Due to a loophole in regulations when a drug patent expires companies can purchase and rebrand drugs. They are then free to set their prices. For example, Big Pharma company Pfizer purchased an epilepsy drug Epanutin. Overnight they increased the price per pack from £2.83 to £67.50. The NHS bill for the year for this one drug rose from £2m to £50m
The good news
The good news is that anyone with chronic illness and patients deemed vulnerable will be exempt from the overhaul of the prescribing policy and will be able to continue to receive paracetamol as required.