NHS England has now published guidelines that could free up to almost £100 million for frontline care every year by culling prescriptions for ‘low-value’ over the counter (OTC) medicines.

The new guidance will curb the routine prescribing of products that are for self-limiting condition, which does not require any medical advice or treatment as it will clear up on its own, such as sore throats, coughs and colds.

Doctors should also no longer offer NHS prescriptions for a condition that is suitable for self-care, which can be treated with items that can easily be purchased over the counter from a pharmacy, such as indigestion, mouth ulcers and warts and verrucae.

Each year, the NHS spends £22.8 million on constipation, which could fund around 900 community nurses, £3 million on athletes foot and other fungal infections, which could pay for 810 hip ops, and £2.8 million on diarrhea, which is enough to fund 2,912 cataract operations, NHS England noted.

“Every pound we save from cutting waste is another pound we can then invest in better A&E care, new cancer treatments and much better mental health services,” said NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens.

“On a daily basis, CCGs are forced to make difficult decisions that balance the needs of the individual against those of their entire local population,” added Dr Graham Jackson, co-chair of NHS Clinical Commissioners and clinical chair of Aylesbury Vale Clinical Commissioning Group.

“We recognise that it may be difficult for some patients who have previously been prescribed these products, but it is right that we prioritise our spending on those that provide the best outcomes for patients.”

Also responding to the move, John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It’s great news that NHS England will save a vast amount of taxpayers’ money by curbing prescriptions for basic items that are much cheaper to buy in the supermarket than they are to prescribe. Taxpayers should not be footing the bill for items like anti dandruff shampoo or athlete’s foot powder, so cutting out wasteful spending like this will mean that precious resources can be focused on frontline services.”

On a more cautionary note, Royal Pharmaceutical Society England board chair Sandra Gidley voiced concern that implementation of the new guidelines “might disadvantage patients on low incomes and people may be denied treatment because of their inability to pay,” and said the Society would work closely with pharmacists “to ensure that access to medicines is based on clinical needs.”