Head lice epidemic in Yorkshire schools as treatment won't be available on prescription

A Labour MP has warned of an "epidemic of head lice in our schools" as she raised concerns about changes to the availability of lice treatment on prescription.

Emma Hardy, MP for Hull West and Hessle, said that "fighting head lice should not be considered a minor ailment" during Commons health and social care questions.

Minister for Public Health and Primary Care Steve Brine revealed to MPs he had "very recent personal experience" of dealing with nits like "many parents" adding that experts advised head lice could be safely and effectively treated by wet combing.

Discussion of the issue sparked a string of jokes and puns from MPs and provoked laughter in the chamber.

Head lice treatment will no longer be available on prescription

Ms Hardy said: "Yesterday I met with the charity Community Hygiene Concern which provides cheap, reusable and effective bug-busting kits for less than £5, but because of these NHS prescription guidance changes, these kits are no longer available which threatens an epidemic of head lice in our schools.

"Surely fighting head lice should not be considered a minor ailment.

"Will the minister please write to Simon Stevens to encourage him to come and meet with me and the committee for Community Hygiene Concern to look at this issue again?"

Mr Brine replied: "Well I've been itching all morning while thinking about this answer because as soon as you start thinking about it... I don't believe that 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 and I have very recent personal experience of doing this myself as I'm sure do many parents in this House.

"Chemical treatment is only recommended in exceptional circumstances, but I hadn't heard of the charity that she mentions and as discussed before questions today I'm very happy to facilitate that interaction."

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He added: "In the year to June 2017 the NHS spent approximately £569 million on prescriptions for medicines which could be bought over the counter from a pharmacy or supermarket.

"That's 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."

Speak John Bercow replied: "I know that he knows all about heads and all about hair, but not lice indeed."

Mr Brine added: "Pharmacy first when it comes to head lice as well."

Mr Bercow later addressed Labour's Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) asking: "Is he feeling jumpy or did he wish to contribute?"

Mr Sheerman joked he was "nit picking".

Tory former minister Sir Hugo Swire, who is taking part in Movember to raise awareness of men's health issues, later joked that his moustache had "no lice" after Health Minister Caroline Dinenage praised him on his "elegant facial decoration".

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