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Report: Usage of more OTC medicines could save NHS £1.7 billion annually


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Approximately 25 million GP appointments and 5 million A&E visits are utilised each year for self-treatable illnesses. If these individuals chose to self-treat using over-the-counter (OTC) medications, the potential savings for NHS could amount to at least £1.7 billion annually, according to a research commissioned by Proprietary Association of Great Britain.

The study, conducted by analysts at Frontier Economics, revealed that embracing self-care could bring an additional economic benefit of £350 million annually, as employees would avoid unnecessary time off from work for medical appointments.

Apart from the savings resulting from the increased OTC medicine use, the report emphasises the potential benefits of reclassifying more prescription-only medications (POMs). A mere 5 per cent reduction in NHS prescribing levels and spending could lead to an annual cost-saving of £1.4 billion, encompassing both prescription costs and GP appointments, it said.

“This substantial amount could greatly alleviate financial pressures on the NHS and offer essential resources for recruiting and training much-needed healthcare professionals.”

PAGB, the representative body for OTC medication manufacturers, emphasises the significance of promoting self-care for common ailments and minor injuries.

“Around 92 per cent of the UK population, that’s 61 million people, use OTCs each year to treat self-treatable conditions, saving the NHS vast sums of money and resource,” said Michelle Riddalls, CEO of PAGB. “We know that the NHS is struggling and as this report clearly demonstrates, if policymakers were to truly embrace the opportunities presented by self-care, the NHS could save an additional £3.1 billion. These vast sums could be saved through greater use of existing OTCs (£1.7 billion) combined with further reclassification of prescription-only medicines (£1.4 billion).”

The report underscores the economic and social advantages of OTC medicines. “With an impressive £8.40 return for every £1 spent on OTCs, the ‘well-being savings’ total a substantial £14.9 billion annually.”

According to the report, these savings stem from avoided work absence, totalling £18 billion and £6.4 billion in NHS prescription and appointment cost savings, respectively. “Additionally, consumers enjoy an estimated £15 billion ‘quality of life benefit’ each year, demonstrating the positive impact of self-care and OTC medicine use on overall well-being.”

However, the report acknowledges that the extent of this increase depends on various factors, including demand, unit costs, patient willingness to switch from prescriptions, and changes in prescribing practices.

In 2022, PAGB members manufactured approximately £4.3 billion worth of OTCs in the UK and exported £2.8 billion worth of OTCs worldwide.

Meanwhile, a recent report by Tony Blair Institute proposes facilitating healthcare provision in pharmacies and other spaces to bring services closer to patients and reduce demands on general practice. The paper ‘Modern and Sustainable NHS Providing Accessible and Personalised Care for All’ outlines six areas for reform, aiming to transform the future of the NHS and improve patient care.


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