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Storm as GPs told not to prescribe painkillers.

Byline: RACHAEL MISSTEAR

PATIENTS are being denied prescriptions for common medicines in an "immoral" move by a cash-strapped NHS, it emerged last night. Hywel Dda Health Board has become the first in Wales to introduce a "restricted" medicines list - including painkillers and hay fever treatments - from which GPs cannot prescribe. It is feared other health boards, charged with saving up to pounds 1m a week each, could follow suit, undermining the Welsh Government's free prescription policy. The British Medical Association last night described the move by Hywel Dda Health Board, which will affect patients across West Wales, as "immoral". Dr David Bailey, chairman of the Welsh GP committee, said: "Inevitably this will affect people on low incomes disproportionately, so it is intrinsically morally wrong." But health chiefs have defended the move saying money spent on "cheap-to-buy" remedies is better used for treating more patients with more serious conditions. Prescription fees were scrapped in Wales in 2007. Scotland and Northern Ireland have since followed Wales' lead. The decision was heralded as an end to the tax on illness - some patients faced a monthly > dilemma about whether they could afford to pay for the very medicines designed to make them better. But the policy was controversial amid claims it was being abused by patients and enabled millionaires to save pennies on paracetamol. Now under increasing pressure to save money and slash costs, Hywel Dda health board, which covers Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, has advised GPs to reduce their prescribing. Patients will now have to pay for common over-the-counter medicines, including cough and cold remedies, treatments for diarrhoea, head lice, cold sores and thrush, according to the advice. Powys Local Health Board has also indicated it is looking at developing a similar approach. Dr Bailey, a GP in Trethomas, near Caerphilly, said the change will put pressure on GPs to conform to a policy which flies in the face of what free prescriptions was designed to address. And he added: "This is inducing GPs to break their terms of service, which is legally stupid. GPs have an obligation under their NHS contract to prescribe those medicines they think are necessary for the patient's treatment. For the health board to try and induce doctors not to do that is very unwise." Chris Jenkins, a pharmacist in Carmarthenshire and board member of Community Pharmacy Wales, said Hywel Dda Heath Board was undermining the purpose of free prescriptions in Wales .

"It has been proved that since prescription charges were scrapped, sales of goods being bought over the counter have remained much the same," he said. "This is a move which will target the poorer in our communities." Official Welsh Government statistics indicate that removing the prescription charge has not increased the number of prescriptions dispensed. But according to Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar the number of paracetamol prescriptions has risen by almost a quarter in the past five years - figures obtained by the Welsh Conservatives show 1,398,253 packets of paracetamol were dispensed in 2010, 268,000 more than in 2006. The same figures also show there has been a 10% rise in prescriptions for athlete's foot powder, Mr Millar said. "As more and more of those items are dispensed for free, we have to question whether that's an effective use of resources," he said. "As the number of prescriptions for items such as these continues to rise inWales, so the pressure onNHSfinances will increase." A spokeswoman for Hywel Dda Health Board said: "We are actively working with GPs, pharmacists and the public to reduce waste and the over-prescribing of medicines. "We are not rationing, nor are we preventing the prescription of essential medicines. "We want to encourage GPs and pharmacists to think about both the quantity of medicines prescribed and whether treatment could best be provided by over the counter medication." AWelsh Government spokesman said determining what medication is given on prescription is a matter for the prescriber.

A spokesman said: "We see free prescriptions as a long-term investment in improving people's health, and by providing them with the medication they need, will enable people to manage their own health more effectively at home. "This will reduce the risk of chronic ill-health or the condition deteriorating and reducing pressure on the ambulance service and emergency departments."
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Title Annotation:News; Front Page
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 16, 2011
Words:712
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