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Calls to divert £400 million of prescription funding into mental health

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£400 million could be freed up for mental health NHSCC says £400 million could be freed up for mental health services by taking items of low clinical value off prescription

Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are calling for funding to be diverted into mental health care as the NHS moves to free up money by stopping prescriptions for certain products obtainable over-the-counter.

A new initiative by NHS Clinical Commissioners (NHSCC) will see products such as gluten-free food, antihistamines and sun cream taken off prescription in order to save on NHS spending. With the money freed up, CCGs are pursuing the NHS to free up £400 million to be spent in ‘high priority’ areas, including mental health.

Mental health charity Mind has welcomed the suggestion of further funding for an area they have considered long-overlooked.

Policy and campaigns manager Geoff Heyes said: ‘For too long mental health services have seen a lack of investment which has meant too many people have struggled to access the care and support they need. Now with a greater focus on mental health across society, we have a real opportunity to transform and improve services.

‘We are pleased that greater investment has been promised over the next four years but we’re still a long way from where we need to be. We need to make sure these promises materialise and money reaches the frontline. It is also vital we invest in prevention, which will lessen the burden on the NHS in the future and, most importantly, improve the lives of many living with or at risk of developing mental health problems.’

NHSCC has identified a group of 10 products to launch the initiative, releasing up to an initial £128 million. They have been selected due to having little or no clinical value, or little robust clinical evidence for their use. Products with an equally effective, cheaper alternative and products which are arguably not an NHS priority or can be bought over-the-counter cheaper than on prescription have also been tipped for elimination.

NHSCC co-chair Dr Graham Jackson said: ‘We need to be honest with the population – the NHS can and does provide high quality cost effective care, but our ability to continue to do so will be restricted if we can’t prioritise those areas which will get the best outcomes for patients, whilst getting the best value for our limited NHS budget.

‘The medicines spend is one where there is huge potential to unlock resources and redirect them to those higher priority areas like mental health and primary care. Through doing this we can deliver better outcomes for patients. The principles of this work will also support the much needed long term transformation of the NHS.

‘We know that CCGs are keen to explore other products that promote the self-care agenda and where there are even more significant sums of money that could be released and used more effectively and efficiently for our patients and local populations.’

Primary care was also identified as a ‘high priority’ area to divert funding as the initiative goes ahead.

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I think this is an excellent idea as I pay for my prescriptions and know a lot of things are cheaper over the counter. However the problem is when you suggest to those who get free prescriptions that they buy medication over the counter there is up roar as a large majority believe they are entitled to get it free.
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