The NHS is prescribing branded versions of medicines, creams or gluten-free foods which are far more expensive than generic items.
Shampoo, pasta and suncream have been prescribed on the NHS amid a severe funding shortfall, an analysis has found.
GPs also handed out gluten-free digestive biscuits, Yakult yoghurt drinks, Colgate toothpaste and cod liver oil last year.
Many of these products can be bought far more cheaply at supermarkets, health food shops and chemists.
Only last week NHS England – which runs the health service – launched a major consultation to cut more than 3,000 routine prescriptions
On top of this, suppliers charge substantial delivery and administration costs to ship these products to pharmacies.
The analysis by The TaxPayers’ Alliance also found that Rennie indigestion pills, gluten-free quinoa and Nicorette stop-smoking gum were all prescribed last year.
Only last week NHS England – which runs the health service – launched a major consultation to cut more than 3,000 routine prescriptions.
These include painkillers, indigestion remedies, anti-dandruff shampoo and cough mixtures, although gluten-free foods will remain.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, claims the health service can no longer afford to prescribe these items when finances are so constrained.
The NHS was given an extra £2.8 billion by the Government in last month’s Budget but this was a third of the amount Mr Stevens had wanted. The TaxPayers’ Alliance scrutinised the records of items prescribed by GP surgeries in 2016, which is held by NHS Digital.
Their analysis found that Colgate Total Advanced toothpaste was handed out last year at seven times its cost in chemists.
The NHS is prescribing expensive branded versions of common items like toothpaste, pasta, shampoo and suncream
Rennie indigestion pills were prescribed at three times the price and while gluten-free pasta was costing the NHS twice its supermarket price.
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘At a time when the NHS is failing to meet basic targets for cancer diagnosis, it can’t be right that taxpayers’ money is being wasted on basic items that are much cheaper to buy in the supermarket than they are to prescribe.
‘The NHS should be cutting out waste where it can and offering value for money, ensuring that precious resources are spent on essential services.
‘We know that ground-breaking new drugs are often refused funding, so it’s time that the NHS cuts out wasteful spending on everyday items and thinks again about its priorities.’
But Sarah Sleet, chief executive of Coeliac UK, which represents patients with Coeliac disease – a digestive disorder which means they rely on gluten-free food – said they depended on these prescriptions.
‘For someone medically diagnosed with coeliac disease, there is no choice but to stick to a gluten-free diet, day-in, day-out for life and so access to gluten free staples is critical, and is not as easy as people might think,’ she said.
‘The expansion of “free from” aisles in large supermarkets masks the reality of very patchy provision and with basic gluten-free breads costing 800 per more than conventional equivalents, those who can least afford them rely on prescriptions to access limited amounts of essential staple foods.’
An NHS England spokesman said: ‘The NHS is one of the most efficient health services in the world and we have already announced plans to curb prescriptions for many of these products, so we welcome TaxPayers’ Alliance support for what we’re already doing.’