Patients in north Norfolk asked to buy their own painkillers to help cash-strapped NHS

Dr Linda Hunter, North Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group's clinical prescribing lead.

Dr Linda Hunter, North Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group's clinical prescribing lead. - Credit: Colin Finch

Doctors in the area spend £400,000 every year on prescriptions for paracetamol and ibuprofen.

But the North Norfolk Clinical Commissioning group (CCG) says patients could buy their own in shops for less than half the price it costs the NHS to prescribe them.

In a hard-hitting campaign, launched today, the CCG is telling patients that the money saved could be spent on 80 more hip replacements,

15,385 more hormone treatments for breast cancer, 18,000 more Alzheimer’s drug treatments, 490 more cataract operations or 13 more chemotherapy treatments.

The CCG, which represents 19 GP practices in north Norfolk and rural Broadland, is struggling to plug a £14.6m gap in its finances over the next two years.

As part of its hunt for savings, GPs have agreed to stop prescribing short-term use of small quantities of paracetamol and ibuprofen, which account for about 107,000 prescriptions each year.

Those who need regular, large quantities of painkillers will not be affected.

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Dr Linda Hunter, the CCG’s clinical prescribing lead and a member of its governing body, said it was important patients were aware of the drugs’ true cost to the NHS.

With 16 paracetamol or ibuprofen tablets widely available for between 20p and 40p, the fees the NHS paid to provide them on prescription could be much higher than the cost of the drugs.

“At a time when the NHS is facing huge financial pressures, providing small quantities of these painkillers on prescription is not an effective use of funds,” Dr Hunter said.

“Every time a doctor writes a prescription, the NHS incurs additional charges through dispensing and administrative fees – and if GP time is also included the cost rises even higher.

“These painkillers can be bought from a shop or pharmacy for less than half the price the NHS pays when providing them on prescription. For that reason, we’re asking people to make this choice. By doing so they will help us save money that we can then invest elsewhere.”

The CCG is aiming to save £9.25m in the current financial year, but was six per cent behind its goal in September.

However, chief finance officer Helen Stratton is forecasting that the CCG will meet its target.

Other decisions already taken include stopping prescriptions for gluten-free food products used by coeliacs, saving £125,000, and asking GPs to prescribe cheaper “generic” drugs rather than branded products, where clinically appropriate.

But the CCG has pledged to ring-fence spending on mental health services, which will not be subject to savings cuts.

The 19 member practices are also working together to highlight and share good ideas.

Meanwhile longer-term work is taking place to make sure health and social care is available to people in their own homes and communities, easing pressure on the urgent care system and local hospitals.

Mrs Stratton said: “There will, inevitably, be further difficult decisions ahead but our aim is to reshape services in a carefully-planned, sustainable way and ensure we make best possible use of resources.”