GPs are being asked to encourage patients who have seasonal hay fever to buy routine remedies themselves from retail outlets or pharmacies rather than asking for them on prescription.
Letters from South Devon and Torbay Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which is responsible for the majority of healthcare in the area, have been sent to all GPs.
The letters are aimed at reducing the hundreds of thousands of pounds used to buy medicines and supplies for minor ailments each year, as well as freeing up GP time to see patients who need their attention.
This money, spent on medicines readily available through other means at a lower cost to patients, could be better spent on treating more serious conditions such as cancer and heart disease.
Dr Jo Roberts, CCG clinical lead for medicines optimisation, said: “There is a limited pot of money allocated to our area and we have to spend it as wisely as possible.
“We are therefore asking that people take the self-care approach for seasonal anti-histamines, eye drops and nasal sprays indicated for hay fever.
“Encouraging patients to buy these remedies themselves can sometimes be challenging, but the benefits are significant for the community as a whole.
“For example, if people buy their hay fever products from high street outlets, it should result in more GP time being freed up, NHS budgets being less stretched, and time and resources being concentrated on tackling more serious health issues.
“One way to think about it is, NHS money spent on treatments for minor ailments is money that could have been spent on your hip replacement in 10 years’ time.
“However, I must stress that this is aimed at people with seasonal hay fever, rather than patients who have antihistamines on prescription long term, who will continue to get their prescription as normal.”
Most medicines for minor ailments are available quite cheaply from pharmacies, shops or supermarkets.
A consultation at a pharmacy is confidential, and an appointment is not necessary to see a pharmacist, who is often available in the evenings and at weekends.