Wales politics

Buy some medicines yourself to help NHS, says local health board

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Image caption Medicines have been available free in Wales on prescriptions since 2007

A north Wales health board has urged patients to buy cheaper medicines themselves, rather than use free prescriptions, to save the NHS money.

Betsi Cadwaladr health board said many medicines could be bought at "minimum cost" and often "much more cheaply" than it would cost the health service.

The Conservatives said it demonstrated free prescriptions were "unaffordable".

The Welsh government said deciding who needed prescriptions was a matter for doctors and other prescribers.

The health board's clinical director of pharmacy and medicines management, Dr Berwyn Owen, said a 2% reduction in its spending on over-the-counter items such as vitamins, simple painkillers and hay fever treatments could save the board £80,000 a year.

"Alongside other health boards in Wales, we have asked GPs to reduce unnecessary prescribing of these simple medications. However, be reassured that if your GP considers it essential that you take the medication for your condition, it will be prescribed for you," he said.

'Seek advice'

Conservative shadow health minister Darren Millar seized on Dr Owen's comments as "recognition that Labour's universal free prescriptions policy is unaffordable and wastes vital funds which could be spent improving patient care".

A Welsh government spokesman said it was for doctors and other prescribers to decide if patients need prescriptions and "our decision to remove charges has not changed this".

The spokesman added: "However, we encourage the public to make better use of their local pharmacy and seek advice on common ailments.

"This frees up GPs to deal with more complex cases."

Analysis: Owain Clarke, BBC Wales health correspondent

Besti Cadwladr health board says the advice it has issued today on medicines does not indicate any change in policy.

It says it is merely urging patients to use "common sense" - and not book GP appointments, for example, just to get a supply of over-the-counter medicines such as paracetamol and ibuprofen .

The health minister has also in recent years, as part of his "prudent healthcare" agenda, urged patients and doctors to be sensible in relation to how medicines are prescribed.

For example, under a new GP contract in Wales agreed some weeks ago, GPs will need to routinely review the drugs given to elderly patients over 85 years old who are on several medications.

The NHS and Welsh government have for many years urged patients to make more use of community pharmacists in relation to minor injuries and ailments - and not always turn to the GP surgery.

Betsi Cadwaladr health board estimate that 10-20% of GP appointments are taken up by patients with minor illnesses or ailments, which could potentially be dealt with by the patients themselves or by pharmacists.

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