Doctors are giving out nearly 500,000 prescriptions a year for toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste and body wash, official figures reveal.
The NHS is spending £3.5million a year on the items, even though many can easily be bought at chemists and supermarkets.
This bill – described as ‘absurd’ by campaigners – has risen seven-fold in a decade. Figures from NHS Digital show a total of 470,678 prescriptions for toiletries were handed out last year, up from 79,341 in 2007.
Many of these were for branded items including Colgate toothpaste, Neutrogena shampoo and Ambre Solaire aftersun.
Campaigners said the NHS should not be prescribing these items when they could be easily bought by patients.
The figures show £1.64million was spent on 195,091 prescriptions for Aveeno body wash.
This is specifically recommended for patients with eczema but it is available from Boots and Superdrug at less than £10 a bottle.
A further £270,000 was spent on 50,000 prescriptions for Neutrogena’s T/Gel shampoos for dandruff, sensitive scalps or greasy hair.
The same shampoos can be bought from high street chemists for £7 per bottle.
Other branded products prescribed on the NHS included E45 Junior Foaming Bath Milk, Bio Oil Skincare Oil and Vagisil Feminine Wash.
The NHS spent more than £3m last year on toiletries such as toothpaste and shampoo
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘It is absurd that items which are so readily available at highstreet shops are still being prescribed.
‘Clearly, many primary care treatments will require specialist medicines, but this spending on branded toiletries is not on.’
Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs think-tank said: ‘Just a matter of weeks after the Prime Minister promises to commit £20billion more a year to our healthcare system, we hear yet another example of how careless NHS spending is.
‘Rather than squandering significant amounts of money on body wash and fancy toothpaste, this money would be better spent on investing in new technology and improving patient care.’
The spending surge is a result of doctors handing out free prescriptions for toiletries like toothpaste at a rate of nearly one a minute
In May, NHS England – which runs the health service – told GPs to stop prescribing 35 types of products including hay fever remedies and cough mixture.
The restrictions didn’t cover toiletries however, although officials are hoping to extend the ban at some point.
Last month Theresa May promised to invest billions extra into the NHS’s budget over the next five years following warnings of an unprecedented funding crisis.
But critics say the health service is too wasteful with its money, particularly on prescriptions and agency staff.
The figures also show 75 prescriptions were made for Colgate Total toothpaste, including 22 for Colgate Pro Gum Health toothpaste.
This could have been for patients who went to their GP with gum problems, or may have been prescribed by NHS dentists.
Another £22 was spent on two prescriptions for 200ml bottles of Ambre Solaire after-sun lotion, which costs £5 per bottle in high street stores.
The owner of high street chain Boots billed health bosses £1,579 for a 500ml tub of skin ointment which is regularly prescribed across Britain for just £1.73. Stock picture
Ash Soni, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said there had been a ‘significant drop’ in prescriptions for branded products and an increase in the number of patients buying products for themselves in recent months.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘GPs are acutely aware of how much money prescriptions cost the NHS, and will always encourage patients who can afford to buy “over the counter” products to source them themselves.’
An NHS England spokesman said: ‘The NHS in England is already one of the most efficient health systems in the world, but we will always seek better value for taxpayers, which is why we introduced strict guidelines earlier this year to help GPs make smarter prescriptions, which alone will free up £100million to reinvest in better mental health, cancer and A&E services.’
NHS SPENDING ON TOILETRIES IN 2017
NHS SPENDING ON TOILETRIES IN 2017
Number of prescriptions in 2007= 79,000
Number of prescriptions in 2017= 471,000
Prescribed products in 2017= 195,091
Aveeno bodywash* £1.64m total cost. Average cost to NHS per bottle: £8.41. Total prescribed= 195,091
Ambre Solaire soothing aftersun lotion, 200ml £22 total cost. Average cost to NHS per bottle: £11. Total prescribed=2
Neutrogena T/Gel shampoo for dry hair* £184,000 total cost. Average cost to NHS per bottle: £5.48. Total prescribed= 30,433
Aveeno bath & shower oil* £209,000 total cost. Average cost to NHS per bottle: £6.86 22. Total prescribed= 30,433
Colgate Total Pro Gum Health toothpaste (75ml) £60 total cost. Average cost to NHS per tube: £2.73. Total prescribed= 22
Neutrogena T/Gel shampoo for greasy hair* £39,000 total cost. Average cost to NHS per bottle: £5.20. Total prescribed= 7,487