Fury over toothpaste prescriptions
Patients are being prescribed over-the-counter toothpastes, sun creams and multivitamins on the NHS at a cost of millions of pounds, new figures suggest.
The data, published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, shows a total of 1.1 billion items were prescribed by doctors in England in 2014, representing a 3% rise on the previous year.
These included widely available products such as Colgate toothpaste, Yakult yoghurt drink and Berocca vitamin tablets, prompting concern from a patient group which described the prescriptions as "ludicrous".
The figures appear to suggest GPs gave out a total of 404,556 prescriptions for sun cream, including brands such as Ambre Solaire, at a cost of at least £13 million.
And 347,802 scripts were written out for multivitamins, such as those available from Tesco or Superdrug, at a cost of £2.6 million.
Products such as Beechams and Lemsip powders and Calpol were among more than 68 million prescriptions for painkillers, which the data showed also included many items not available to consumers without a prescription.
Roger Goss of Patient Concern told the Daily Mail: "This is ludicrous. Every week we hear of patients being denied another cancer treatment or refused (operations on) cataracts while others are being prescribed toothpaste. Whoever is prescribing this or authorising it must have completely lost their mind."
The data showed the cost of all prescribed items rose 3% to £8.9 billion last year, although the measure, known as the net ingredient cost, does not account for income from prescription charges.
Most patients in England pay an £8.20 prescription charge but there are exemptions including for anyone aged 16 or under, 60 or over or students aged 16 to 18.
Last year, the coalition Government launched a drive to save £150 million by cracking down on fraud at chemists, amid fears over an abuse of the system.
Under the proposals, a new IT system will allow staff to access Department for Work and Pensions records on the spot and see whether individuals are entitled to free prescriptions.
Dr Richard Vautrey of the British Medical Association's GPs committee said the system needed reviewing.
He told the Daily Mail: " GPs have a duty to prescribe where there is clinical need. What we don't want to see is anyone abusing the system. The whole prescribing system needs to be looked at."
A spokeswoman for NHS England said: "GPs are responsible for only issuing appropriate prescriptions to their patients, and these figures underline the importance of ensuring that's what happens everywhere."