Health experts across the ELL boroughs are warning that vulnerable people may go without vital drugs thanks to NHS England proposals to scrap a number of medical treatments currently available on prescription.
They warn that the proposed ban on certain prescriptions will mean that patients who rely on GPs to prescribe them will have to seek alternatives.
The proposal could effect huge numbers of people, with approximately one million residents in Croydon, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Lewisham. ELL spoke to a number of experts involved in the fields of treatment that are included in the NHS proposal.
Healthwatch Hackney told EastLondonLines after speaking to members of the public, that there was a real concern about medication being made unavailable on prescription for vulnerable groups. These include children and families living in difficult social circumstances, people with mental health needs, the homeless and people with alcohol or drug addictions. They said: “The overall sentiment is that any changes should take into consideration the demographics of Hackney including the socio-economic makeup of the borough and there should be GP discretion to prescribe over the counter products free of charge for these vulnerable groups.”
The treatments involved in the proposed curb include:
- Herbal treatments
- Travel vaccines
- Gluten-Free foods
The changes, trailed earlier this year, are part of an NHS cost-saving exercise to claw back a reported £9.2bn annually.
The products are all considered lower priority for the NHS funding. According to NHS research proof of their effectiveness is “low as well as there being safe alternatives” alongside the treatments costing the NHS what they term a considerable sum.
A statement on NHS England, that reveals the reasoning behind the proposal on primary care reads: “Last year 1.1 billion prescription items were dispensed in primary care at a cost of £9.2billion. This cost coupled with finite resources means it is important that the NHS achieves the greatest value from the money that it spends. We know that across England there is significant variation in what is being prescribed and to whom. Often patients are receiving medicines which have been proven to be ineffective or in some cases dangerous, for which there are other more effective, safer and/or cheaper alternatives.”
However, the proposals have been met with fierce opposition from groups that specialise in treatments that will be hit by the prescription curb.
Dr Helen Beaumont, the President of the Faculty of Homeopathy spoke to EastLondonLines discussing the importance of homeopathic treatment.
“NHS doctors trained in homeopathy have found it to be beneficial in treating patients for a wide range of acute and chronic conditions. It is particularly useful for those patients who have a low tolerance for conventional drugs or suffer adverse effects from drug interactions.”
“Homeopathic medicines are generally much cheaper than their pharmacological counterparts, and if they weren’t available patients would inevitably be prescribed more costly conventional medicines, which makes a mockery of the economic argument used by NHS England to justify banning homeopathy.”
“The NHS England proposal will deprive patients of choice in their healthcare and deny doctors the clinical freedom to prescribe treatments according to their training and experience.”
The Chief Executive of Coeliac UK, Sarah Sleet, spoke to EastLondonLines outlining the complexity of treating coeliac disease and the knock on effects that the proposal will have to those suffering from the condition. Sleet warned of under diagnosis, especially in poorer areas such as Tower Hamlets, and the problems caused by not detecting the illness.
“Coeliac disease is a very serious autoimmune condition, if you don’t diagnose it or treat it there are very serious implications, such as, Osteoporosis. These conditions are not only very expensive for the NHS, but are really quite horrific for the patient.”
“A major problem with coeliac disease is under diagnosis. There is a big relationship between poverty and under diagnosis. People can go for years and years without getting diagnosed which causes long term health problems.”
No decision has been made on whether to control over-the-counter prescription medicines. However, groups such as HealthwatchHackney are encouraging people to bring their views to them online at www.healthwatchhackney.co.uk/have-your-say regarding the prescription curb.