Minor ailment scheme doesn't provide free Calpol for all

Behind the Headlines

Thursday May 21 2015

The scheme is not designed to allow parents to stock-up on free medications

Calpol is a mild liquid paracetamol recommended for young children

"Thousands discover Calpol has been free on NHS 'for years' as mum's Facebook post goes viral," the Daily Mirror reports.

This and other similar headlines were prompted by a post made on the social networking site Facebook. In the post, it was claimed that all medicines for children were available for free on the NHS as part of the minor ailment scheme.

"I was in Boots yesterday buying Calpol and happened to complain to the cashier how expensive it is. She told me, to my amazement, that if you register your details with them under the minor ailments scheme that all medicines for children are free – a scheme that has been going for eight years."

The post went viral, being "shared" and "liked" more than 100,000 times in the space of a few days.

But there are a number of inaccuracies both in the Facebook post and in the media's reporting of the story. 

What is the minor ailment scheme?

The minor ailment scheme is designed to enable people with minor health conditions to access medicines and advice they would otherwise visit their doctor for.

It allows patients to see a qualified health professional at a convenient and accessible location within their community, and means patients do not need to wait for a GP appointment or queue up for a valuable A&E slot with a non-urgent condition.

Childhood ailments that may be treated under the scheme include:

If the patient being treated is exempt from paying prescription charges – because they're under 16 or over 60, for example, or they have a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) – you don't have to pay for the medicine. 

Important points about the minor ailment scheme

There are a number of important points that have not been made clear by the media:

  • The minor ailment scheme is not a national scheme. It is not possible to say exactly which medical conditions are covered because this will vary depending on the location and the particular service.
  • The scheme is designed to offer medication to meet an acute need. It is not an opportunity for parents to stock up on free children's medications – if a pharmacist thinks someone is trying to abuse the system, they can refuse any request for treatment at their discretion.
  • The pharmacist has no obligation to provide branded medication such as Calpol. If there is a cheaper generic version available that is known to be equally effective, it is likely that will be provided instead.
  • Claims that the scheme is secretive are incorrect. Information about the minor ailment scheme has been freely available on the NHS Choices website since 2008.

Read more about the services offered by pharmacies and how they can often save you a trip to the GP.

Edited by NHS Choices

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