Doctors fear new restriction on prescribing Pill

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WOMEN who take the Pill may be forced to swap to cheaper, older brands with more side-effects if the Government goes ahead with plans to limit the range of contraceptives available on the NHS, it was claimed yesterday.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry warned that many women would accept the older brands rather than pay the full cost of more expensive modern formulations. Doctors say that the move will lead to a deterioration in family planning care.

Contraceptives are one of 10 treatment groups to be added to the limited list of drugs which can be prescribed on the NHS, in an attempt to curb the drugs bill of pounds 2.5bn, which grew by 12 per cent between 1991 and 1992.

Some drugs in each category that are currently available on an NHS prescription will be banned in favour of cheaper - often non- branded - alternatives. Patients who have been taking these drugs must accept the alternatives, or buy them on a private prescription.

The association is concerned about the impact of the limited list on pharmaceutical company profits, and on research projects. It says that the list removes the incentive to develop better drugs. There are 190 research projects covering the 10 treatment areas that are being targeted by the Government. Some of these may be abandoned, the association says.

A survey among 200 family doctors carried out by the association shows that GPs are opposed to an extension of the limited list by a majority of two to one. A reduction in the range of contraceptives attracts the greatest criticism, with about 70 per cent claiming that it will compromise care.

They are also worried about the effect on patients with vaginal and vulval conditions, skin complaints, ear and nose conditions and anaemia, which make up some of the other treatment groups.

A limited list of NHS drugs was first introduced in 1985 and covered seven categories of medicines. It attracted similar criticisms to those being voiced now.

However, Dr John Griffin, director of the association, said that the extension to the list would 'really bite' because it affected many more prescription medicines than the first list, many of which were already available over the counter.

The Department of Health is now taking advice on which drugs in the new categories should be excluded from NHS prescription.