National guidance recognises the importance of taking vitamin D supplements for some people.
Vitamin D is the second most commonly prescribed medicine in Sheffield costing almost £1.4 million per year. We are asking GPs to speak to their patients about purchasing Vitamin D themselves so that NHS resources can be used more effectively. Vitamin D is readily available over the counter, at a far lower cost than on prescription.
This does not affect GP prescribing of high-dose Vitamin D preparations that are not available over the counter.
Vitamin supplements are provided free via the Government’s Healthy Start voucher scheme for eligible groups, including pregnant women, women with a child under 12 months and children aged from six months to four years.
Are you getting enough Vitamin D?
Our body creates most of our vitamin D from direct sunlight on our skin. Most people can make enough vitamin D from being out in the sun daily for short periods with their forearms, hands or lower legs uncovered and without sunscreen from March to October, especially from 11am to 3pm.
A short period of time in the sun means just a few minutes – about 10 to 15 minutes is enough for most lighter-skinned people – and is less than the time it takes you to start going red or burn. People with darker skin will need to spend longer in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D.
Prolonged exposure (for example, leading to burning or dark tanning) is not a safe way to gain vitamin D.
It is important to check the skin regularly for any changes (such as changes to moles that occur over weeks or several months) and see your GP if you detect any changes.
We can also get vitamin D from some foods, such as:
- Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)
- Red Meat
- Egg yolks
- Fortified foods (including some margarines and breakfast cereals in the UK)
Who is at risk of vitamin D deficiency?
Some groups of the population are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency, and the Department of Health advises these people to take daily vitamin D supplements. These groups are:
- all babies and young children from birth to five years old – unless they are having 500ml or more a day of infant milk formula
- people who are not often exposed to the sun - for example, people who are frail or housebound, or are in an institute such as a care home, or if they usually wear clothes that cover up most of their skin when outdoors.
Where can I get vitamin D supplements from?
If you have been identified by your healthcare professional as being at risk of low vitamin D you will be advised to take a daily vitamin D supplement. You should also follow advice around safe sun exposure and try to eat foods that contain vitamin D as part of your balanced diet.
Supplements can be bought from pharmacies, most supermarkets and health food shops.
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have a young child under five, you may be able to get these free or buy them at low cost from a local children’s centre. Ask your midwife or health visitor for more information about Healthy Start vitamins and where your nearest children’s centre is.