NHS England has revealed it is spending £4.5 million a year on dandruff shampoos.
That money would pay for 1,200 hip operations, it disclosed, as it unveiled plans to slash the number of free prescriptions and over-the-counter remedies for what many would see an minor complaints.
The NHS also said it was spending £7.5 million on treatments for indigestion and heartburn – enough to fund nearly 300 community nurses.
And it splashes out £5.5 million on remedies for mouth ulcers – enough to fund around 1,500 hip replacements.
That’s £17.5 million a year that could be spent on more urgent treatments from just these three areas alone.
It has launched a public consultation on cutting back on such medicines, arguing ending routine prescribing for minor, short-term conditions, many of which will cure themselves or cause no long term effect on health, would free up NHS funds for frontline care.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, said: “To do the best for our patients and for taxpayers it’s vital the NHS uses its funding well.
“This consultation gives the public the opportunity to help family doctors decide how best to deploy precious NHS resources, freeing-up money from the drugs bill to reinvest in modern treatments for major conditions such as cancer, mental health and emergency care.”
Other readily available items such as cough mixtures, eye drops, laxatives and sun creams would also be reined in, it said.
The proposals would free up about £136 million to expand other treatments for major conditions such as cancer and mental health problems.
Some products currently can be purchased over the counter at a lower cost than that which would be incurred by the NHS.
For example, a pack of 12 anti-sickness tablets cost £2.18 from a pharmacy, but set the NHS back over £3 after including dispensing fees, and over £35 when you include GP consultation and other administration costs.
One of the biggest issues for the NHS remains people booking to see their GP for relatively trivial complaints, many of which could be solved by a quick trip to the pharmacy.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Where patients can afford to buy medication over the counter, we would certainly encourage them to do so.
“There are also many minor, self-limiting conditions for which patients don’t often need to seek medical assistance, or prescribed medication, and can dealt with through self-care.”
However, the Patients Association said the proposals would worry many.
Rachel Power, the association’s chief executive, said: “This may or may not be a good idea, but it certainly shouldn’t be motivated by a funding crisis, as it clearly is today. Nor should it be done without sanction by parliament.” The consultation runs until March next year.
NHS England last month voted to cut 13 items deemed “ineffective, over-priced and low value treatments” – including homeopathy, herbal remedies and some painkillers – from its prescription list.