In the year to June 2017, the NHS spent approximately £569 million on prescriptions for medicines that could be bought over the counter from a pharmacy or supermarket. That is why, following public consultation earlier this year, NHS England issued guidance to reduce the routine prescribing of some medicines for minor, short-term ailments, including head lice treatment.
Yesterday, I met people from the charity Community Hygiene Concern, which provides cheap, reusable and effective bug-busting kits for less than £5. However, because of these NHS prescription guidance changes, these kits are no longer available, which threatens an epidemic of head lice in our schools. Surely head lice should not be considered a minor ailment. Will the Minister please write to Simon Stevens to encourage him to meet me and Community Hygiene Concern to look at this issue again?
I have been itching all morning while thinking about this answer. I do not believe there is an epidemic because of NHS England’s actions. Clinical experts in the NHS advise that head lice can be safely and effectively treated by wet combing; I have very recent personal experience of doing this, as I am sure do many parents in this House. Chemical treatment is recommended only in exceptional circumstances. I had not heard of the charity the hon. Lady mentions, but as we discussed before questions, I am happy to facilitate that interaction.
In France, where head lice are more common per capita than in the UK, people make good use of pharmacies, because it costs money to visit a general practitioner and because the state promotes the role of pharmacies. May I therefore ask the Minister why do we not advertise that we should be using pharmacies more often than not, instead of going to a GP?
Unfortunately, that has nothing to do with the matter of head lice. [Interruption.] It seemed to be slightly tangential, but never mind. The hon. Gentleman was at least attempting to shoehorn his preoccupation into the question, but I will err on the side of generosity. I know that he knows all about heads and all about hair—
But not lice!
I do not know whether my hon. Friend is familiar with wet combing his hair.
Only with my gel.
Only with his gel. He is absolutely right that, as the Secretary of State just said, community pharmacies are experts in so many minor health matters, and Pharmacy First can absolutely be used when it comes to head lice as well.
Is the hon. Gentleman feeling jumpy or does he wish to contribute?
I was just nit-picking.
Ah, the House is in a very jocular mood. Long may it last.
It will soon be Christmas.