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5 October 2010, 05:00
Going to the doctor to pick up a hayfever prescription is something thousands of people do in our county every year - but it could be costing them more than they think.
An investigation by Heart has found that the NHS is left with a bill of several million pounds a year for medicine that could be bought much cheaper elsewhere.
Three of our health trusts, who look after thousands of GPs practices, have told us they spend over nine million pounds last year on routine medication prescribed at surgeries. That includes more than £4.4 million pounds just on paracetamol.
Other costs include millions of pounds on hayfever remedies, indigestion tablets and skin moisturisers.
Now, as the pressure on public spending intensifies, some of our health officials are urging people who can afford to buy their own medicines to do so - as in the long run it's cheaper for the taxpayer.
Heather Gray is the head of pharmacy and medicines management at NHS Hertfordshire which is one of the biggest spenders on routine medication at GPs. She told Heart: "Hayfever remedies, for example, can be easily purchased from a community pharmacy and you can get advice and help from a healthcare professional in the high street rather than going to the GP for that."
She added: "Every time a prescription is dispensed, irrespective of the cost of the medicine, it costs us about £1.50 to have that transaction and that's not including the GPs time either. We're all in this together, this is our money that is being spent and wouldn't we want to use it wisely?"
NHS Hertfordshire is now asking people, who are able to, to consider buying these types of medications over the counter.
In Bedfordshire the amount spent is smaller, around £1.5 million on paracetamol, hayfever remedies, skin moisturisers and indigestion tablets. Andy Cook, the head of medicines management, said "If half of that money was saved it would pay for 20 nurses or 150 hip or knee replacement operations, or for complex treatments such as chemotherapy. It's money from people in Bedfordshire that could pay for treatments in the county."
What do the people handing out this medication think about plans to ask some people to pay for it themselves? Dr Peter Swinyard is the Chairman of the Family Doctor Association: "If you've got an elderly person who has severe arthritis taking paracetamol to make life more tolerable then I can't see any reason why that shouldn't be prescribed on the NHS.
"However, if you have someone who just likes to have a few sitting around in case they get a headache then those are the circumstances in which i think it would be reasonable to say to them look we want to divert the money we would've spent on that to treating more significant illness. It's a matter of being in proportion and being responsible about the use of drugs. We are going to have to have a very honest discussion with our patients about what it is that matters to them that we spend the money on in the health service."