More normally Polly Toynbee tells us that we should just put up with the fact that the NHS won't treat everything, won't buy every possible medicine and cure. On the grounds that every health care system does ration and that yes, rationing by price is the sensible way to do this. Those treatments which gain more quality life years per pound should be funded over those which gain fewer, that's how we maximise the effect of the scarce resources available for health care.
Sadly, Polly seems not to have the courage of her convictions as she presents this scare story to us:
Little by little services vanish. Prof Azeem Majeed, head of primary care and public health at Imperial College and a Lambeth GP, has just blown the whistle in the British Medical Journal on the latest withdrawal of a service: many clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), including his own, are banning GPs from prescribing anything that can be bought over the counter. Bristol, Lincolnshire, Dudley, Telford and Essex are among many others issuing the same edict.
At first glance it makes sense not to prescribe what most people can get for themselves, until you consider poorer patients who can’t afford the 22 drugs now banned for prescribing.
Well, yes, it does make sense that the NHS not try to provide those things which are easily available elsewhere. As with that Scottish nonsense of a Government Tampon Distribution Service, it's a grossly expensive method of doing something which can be done very much more cheaply in another manner.
And now consider what is being complained about:
Majeed says “Low-income families often can’t afford ibuprofen, or gluten-free products for coeliac disease sufferers. A single mother on low pay with two children can’t afford the £10 it would cost for nit treatment.”
We don't know about nit treatment but gluten free? As the BMJ itself has pointed out:
On the other hand, James Cave, a general practitioner, argues that “it’s ludicrous for the NHS to be treating a food product as a drug and to require GPs and pharmacists to behave as grocers.” He says the “complex rules” imposed by the NHS governing what can be prescribed and how often are stressful for people with coeliac disease and their GPs. “It’s a time-consuming rigmarole and, for the NHS, a very expensive one,” he argues. “The eight basic gluten-free staples advised for people with coeliac disease are all cheaper from a supermarket than the NHS price,” he explains. “This is a scandal.”
The NHS pays up to £6.73 for 500g of pasta, yet 500g of gluten free pasta will cost £1.20 at a supermarket. Additionally, there is a dispensing fee which is charged on top of all prescriptions. “If we stopped prescribing gluten-free products tomorrow GPs would shout for joy and the NHS would stop being ripped off,” he says.
NHS distribution of such things is a method of wasting scarce resources, nothing more. And as to the ibuprofen, Boots Online will sell you 16 200 mg tablets of the stuff for 35 p. Yes, 35 pennies, less than the cost of a packet of crisps these days. This is not something which needs the might of the state to distribute in an efficient manner.
Sorry, we just don't believe you Polly, just don't believe you.