item ban on prescriptions

Item Ban On Prescriptions – What Are The Alternatives?


The NHS has announced that GPs are to stop prescribing a number of medications after a widespread review found them to be cost-ineffective. The new rules, which have been put in place by NHS England, will focus on stopping doctors from routinely prescribing items that can be bought over the counter in high street chemists. The clinical commissioners who have developed the item ban on prescriptions believe it will save the NHS around £128 million.

In total, 10 medications and treatments are included in the NHS item ban on prescriptions. If you are concerned about how the new rules will affect you, our helpful guide provides information on the possible alternatives.

Item Ban On Prescriptions – What’s No Longer Available:

Gluten Free Foods

Celiac Disease is a common digestive condition which affects around one in 100 people in the UK. People with this disease experience uncomfortable symptoms, such as diarrhoea, stomach cramps and bloating, when they eat gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye, so GPs have previously prescribed gluten-free foods including bread, breakfast cereal, cracker, pasta, pizza bases and more. These items will no longer be available on prescription but are readily available in most supermarkets. As a prescription costs £8.40 per item and gluten-free loaves can be purchased for as little as £1 in shops; it will be quicker, easier and cheaper to buy these foods in-store.

Travel Vaccines

The NHS currently offers a number of vaccinations free of charge for people travelling to countries where there is a risk of contracting certain diseases. Vaccines for typhoid, hepatitis A, cholera, diphtheria, polio and tetanus are usually free for travellers, but this is set to change. If you are planning on visiting a country where the risk of these diseases is high after the item ban on prescriptions has been put in place, you will be able to arrange these vaccinations with your pharmacist. The Travel Vaccinations and Health Advice Service is available in certain Boots chemists. All you will have to do is meet for a free consultation with a specially-trained pharmacist who will advise you on which vaccinations you need to book.


Co-proxamol is a combination of paracetamol and dextropropoxyphene and is used for mild to moderate pain relief. This is being added to the item ban on prescriptions as there is very limited evidence to suggest that co-proxamol is any more effective at treating pain than paracetamol on its own. Co-proxamol has been gradually phased out from widespread use since 2007, and is now part of the items no longer available on NHS prescriptions.

Fish Oils

Natural oils from salmon, mackerel, cod and other fish have typically been prescribed in capsule form to promote heart health in patients with a high risk of heart disease. Fish oils are believed to regulate blood pressure and reduce the risk of clotting by making blood less sticky. However fish oils are ineffective in many patients and are not safe or suitable for everyone. If you wish to carry on taking fish oil after the item ban on prescriptions has been put into place, you will still be able to purchase a pack of 100mg capsules over the counter for around £2.


Doxazosin is a group of drugs which are used to treat hypertension. However, doxazosin tablets have been shown to be effective in only a small number of patients. GPs will be advised to prescribe alternative medications to control high blood pressure and to suggest healthy lifestyle changes like consuming less salt and fat and taking more exercise.


Fentanyl patches are used for extremely strong relief for chronic pain, most commonly in terminally ill cancer patients. Research into this medication found that morphine patches are cheaper to prescribe and more effective for palliative care.


Rubefacients are muscle rubs which relieve skeletal and muscular pain by making skin red and warm. After a review into the effectiveness of Rubefacients compared to other methods of muscular-skeletal pain relief, they have been added to the list of items banned from prescription. However, if you find Rubefacients work well for you, you will still be able to buy them in pharmacies and some brands are cheaper than the price of a prescription.


Liothyronine is one of the most expensive drugs used to treat an underactive thyroid. Symptoms of this condition include weight gain, muscle pains, depression and lethargy. Only a small number of patients with underactive thyroids have been shown to benefit from Liothyronine and other, more successful treatments will continue to be available on prescription after the ban takes place.


Tadalafil is used to alleviate erectile dysfunction and, less often, urinary tract infections. The most commonly prescribed drug for erectile dysfunction is the cheaper and more effective Sildenafil- sold under the brand name, Viagra. When the item ban on prescriptions is put into place, GPs will rule out Tadalafil in favour of Viagra.


Finally, Lidocaine is prescribed in the form of large plasters that absorb a localised anaesthetic into the skin. These patches are used when there is mild to moderate pain in a small, specific area of the body. However, Lidocaine plasters can be bought over the counter for around £5, which is cheaper than the price of a prescription.

These are the items which will no longer be prescribed after the first stage of changes have been implemented. More changes are set to be made in the future, with antihistamines, heartburn medication and cough medicines set to join the list. If you’re worried that you’re going to be affected by the item ban on prescriptions you may wish to speak to your GP about your concerns. A pharmacist will also be able to talk you through the changes and advise you on alternative forms of medication. Use this NHS service to find your nearest pharmacy if you’re not sure where to go. Also, if you have coeliac disease and are concerned that you will no longer be able to receive gluten-free foods on prescription, you can download this handy app from Coeliac UK which includes a gluten-free checklist, tips on dining out and a guide to understanding food labels.