GPs are spending millions of pounds prescribing shampoo, toothpaste, suncream and pizza to their patients, despite the worst financial crisis in NHS history.
New figures reveal that over the last five years, the health service has issued more than 18 million
prescriptions for basic household products and foodstuffs.
Last night think tanks said the spending was “ludicrous” and “absurd” at a time when the NHS is under mounting financial pressure, forcing longer waiting times for cancer treatment and major surgery.
The new NHS figures show that in the last five years, GPs have issued millions of prescriptions for items which most families would include in their household shop.
They include more than 8.4 million prescriptions for shampoo, along with 6.5 million for toothpaste, almost 2 million for sunscreen and 1.2 million packets of gluten-free pizza base.
Last year alone, the NHS spent almost £30m on the four types of item, the figures from NHS Digital show.
Products prescribed by GPs include Colgate toothpaste, Neutrogena shampoo for dry hair and a wide range of pizza bases.
Last month the head of the NHS pledged to cut spending on “low priority items” which could be bought in supermarkets and chemists.
Simon Stevens said gluten-free foods, travel vaccinations and omega 3 supplements would no longer be funded by health services, which are battling to claw back record deficits.
He also signalled plans to cut spending on dozens more over the counter items, such as suncream, heart burn medication and treatment for coughs and colds.
Health officials are due to publish plans to cut spending on “low priority” items within months, with an initial list of 10 products set to be “blacklisted” likely to be expanded, following consultation.
But GPs cannot be banned from prescribing such items until laws are passed, delaying a full clampdown.
The new guidelines will encourage doctors to stop handing out items which are deemed ineffective, unnecessary or inappropriate for NHS funding.
Last May NHS hospitals declared the highest deficit in their history, sliding £2.45bn into the red.
Regulators expect the sector to remain in deficit this year and next, despite efforts to tackle waste and inefficiency.
Last month Mr Stevens said: “We’ve got to tackle some of the waste which is still in the system,”
“The NHS is a very efficient health service but like every other country’s health service there is inefficiency and waste,” he said - pointing out that gluten-free foods were available at a wide range of supermarkets, including Morrisons, Lidl and Tesco.
Last night Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs said the findings were evidence of a system in need of “full scale reform”.
“It is beyond the pale to think that the NHS is spending £30 million on household products like toothpaste and - even more absurdly - on pizza, when all we seem to be hearing is that the NHS is on the brink of financial collapse,” he said.
“These are all items that can be purchased cheaply from any supermarket or pharmacy, so why the NHS has a part to play in provision is not clear at all.
“When vital cancer treatments, operations for the elderly and other medicines are being forgone in favour of such ludicrous prescriptions, it becomes patently clear that the allocation of funds in the NHS is going horribly wrong.
“The system needs full scale reform if the NHS is to be saved from the dire financial straits it faces,” Mr Littlewood added.
Liz McAnulty, Chairman of the Patients Association, said it was sensible for NHS England to identify cost savings.
But she said the process needed to be handled carefully.
“Low income families should not be shut out from treatments they need, and any patient who has their medicine changed should have this explained to them properly. We wouldn’t want to see knee-jerk decisions to ban or withdraw items from NHS funding that might not seem medical at first glance, but could be highly important in meeting a patient’s medical and related needs,” she said.