“They are not allowed to advertise it, but you can save a small fortune on Calpol, Piriton, Sudocrem, plasters etc. I wish I had known eight years ago!”
This was a Facebook post by a pleasantly surprised mother who discovered that she could get free medicines for children under the ‘minor ailments scheme.’ Her very public declaration led to a rush on the NHS Choices website, but has raised questions as to whether what she wrote is actually true.
What the Mum on Facebook had actually encountered was details of the NHS’s ‘minor ailments scheme’, aimed at those who can’t afford medicines or don’t have ready access to a local GP. It has been around for ten years in some areas, and is designed to take the pressure off GPs and A&E departments by offering advice and medicines for minor ailments.
It’s a particularly useful service for the treatment of minor ailments such as coughs, colds, headaches, hay fever, insect bites and stings, eczema, earache and diarrhoea outside of GP hours, and means that people can get access to treatment quickly and more easily, without an appointment. The scheme acts as a filter for GP appointments, referring only those who actually need to see a GP.
The enthusiastic Facebook poster was a little off with her facts, according to the BBC. A pharmacist would never prescribe Calpol, for example, but rather a cheaper, unbranded alternative, and as Neal Patel of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society said:
“You can’t just walk into a pharmacy and stock up on Calpol for your kids. That’s not the way it works.”
The truth is, that if you are entitled to free prescriptions, as children and those over 60 are, then these medicines are all available on the NHS anyway. If you DO pay prescription charges, you’ll have to pay to use the minor ailments scheme too. The scheme is clearly not widely known about, given the spike in hits to the NHS Choices website following the Facebook post, and differs across localities. To find out what your local pharmacies can offer, click here.
Demand keeps rising on the NHS, and schemes like the minor ailments service help to alleviate the pressure. As do out-of-hours facilities like those that we list in the East Berkshire area.