Melanoma UK is deeply concerned about NHS England’s plans to remove a number of medicines from being prescribable which they deem ‘low priority’ (
The Pharmaceutical Journal online, 29 March 2017). The suggestion that sunscreen has “little clinical value” is something that we take great exception to.
We fully support the need to review all medicines that are prescribed, but sunscreen needs to be viewed more seriously. To remove this from the list shows a blatant disregard of patients who have debilitating skin conditions. If we take, for example, patients with advanced melanoma who are being treated with immunotherapy, they can suffer terrible side effects, which means that they are extremely sensitive to sunlight. These are the patients who will benefit from being able to access a good quality sunscreen on prescription.
We need to move away from thinking that sunscreen is a beauty product. Sunscreen is extremely important to us all, not just to families with skin conditions. In certain cases, there is justification for sunscreen to be made available on prescription.
NHS England ought to be mindful that there are sunscreens that were developed specifically for patients with skin conditions and approved for prescription. GPs and dermatologists make a clinical judgement on whether a patient requires such a product as part of an ongoing treatment. The medical profession respects that the NHS does not hand out prescriptions for the sake of it.
It is not only melanoma and other skin cancer patients who should be concerned at the proposals, we know that lupus patients will also be worried about this news. Lupus is an autoimmune condition that could increase sun sensitivity and in which, for this reason alone, it is important that the right sunscreen is applied.
For NHS England to suggest that sunscreen has little or no clinical value is sending a message to the public that it is not important. Given that 14,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year, this needs careful thought and we would support any action from patients who are rightly worried about this action from NHS England.