Prescriptions to be slashed in PCT plan

VULNERABLE residents in West Suffolk could be forced to pay for medicines under new plans to curb the amount of prescriptions handed out by family doctors.

VULNERABLE residents in West Suffolk could be forced to pay for medicines under new plans to curb the amount of prescriptions handed out by family doctors.

The Suffolk West Primary Care Trust has instructed GPs not to prescribe any medicines included on a list of 15 restricted products unless deemed “really necessary”.

It means patients, including anyone over the age of 60 who currently has access to free prescriptions, could now be told they must pay for the medicines - including pain killers, cough and cold remedies, and hay fever tablets - from a shop, supermarket or pharmacy.

The announcement met with criticism from members of Age Concern Suffolk, who said the proposal directly discriminated against older people, and urged the PCT to reconsider its decision.

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But health bosses defended the trust's plans for “efficient prescribing”, and said the medicines were not being banned, but it would be up to individual doctors to decide whether to give someone a prescription or not. They also said it was not the PCT's intention to stop people getting the treatment they need.

“Age Concern Suffolk believes that GPs should be prescribing medicines on the basis of the patient's diagnosed need, irrespective of their income,” said Helen Taylor, the charity's information officer.

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“Preventative medicine is invaluable and older people should be encouraged to seek help from their GP at an early stage.

“We feel that these proposals may well deter older patients in West Suffolk from consulting their GP, who are responsible for monitoring their overall health.

“Older people are entitled to free prescriptions and these plans seek to remove this entitlement from patients in West Suffolk.”

In the financial year from 2005 to 2006, the PCT spent over one million pounds on medicines it claims often do not work very well, or are cheaply available over-the-counter.

Linda Lord, prescribing support pharmacist with the PCT's medicines management team, said: “Suffolk East PCT introduced a Restricted Prescribing List earlier this year, and many other PCTs are planning to do the same.

“We are asking GPs not to prescribe any of the medicines on the list unless really necessary. These medicines are not banned, but the PCT wants doctors to think carefully before prescribing them and wants patients to think carefully before asking their doctors to prescribe them.”

The PCT's Restricted Prescribing List, which outlines the medicines no longer readily available by prescription, is being displayed in all 27 surgery waiting rooms, and 28 community pharmacies in West Suffolk. A total of 3,000 leaflets will also be made available to patients.

Mrs Lord added: “The intention is not for patients to go without the treatment they need and doctors can use their discretion to prescribe these medicines on the NHS for patients on low incomes, such as elderly people living off the state pension.”

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