Age and deprivation are factors in overprescribed medication

A Government commissioned review has found that those living in more deprived areas are 2.8 times more likely to be prescribed two or more drugs than those living in less deprived areas.

The review also found that 6.5% of all hospital admissions are due to the adverse side effects of prescribed medication rising to twenty per-cent in over 65’s.  

Ten per-cent of items prescribed through primary health care are thought to be ‘overprescribed’ according to the review’s findings. Over one-million items were prescribed in 2019 suggesting 10,000 of those were unnecessarily prescribed and unwanted by patients or could have been replaced with something more suitable.

Chief Pharmaceutical Office for England, Dr Keith Ridge CBE says, “Medicines do people a lot of good and the practical measures set out in this report will help clinicians ensure people are getting the right type and amount of medication, which is better for patients and also benefits taxpayers, by preventing unnecessary spending on prescriptions”.

A ‘prescribing culture’ within the health care system and amongst patients indicates that a clinician can often treat the illness and not the person but a ‘doctor knows best’ attitude means patients do not question a doctor’s judgement when it comes to prescribing them a new drug.

Two in three people who take more than eight drugs a day are on at least one drug that makes them dependent according to statistics gathered for the review. The risk of harmful effects from prescribed medicine increases drastically the more medicines that are taken at one time.

Problematic polypharmacy- a term used to describe the use of multiple medicines is considered the main consequence for over prescribing according to the review. The elderly, those with poorer health and people who have been on prescribed medication for long periods of time are considered those most at risk of ‘overprescribing’. Clinicians can find it harder to see problematic or unnecessary prescriptions due to their complex needs.

The Government are set to appoint a National Clinical Director for Prescribing to lead a three-year programme including research and training to help stabilise the prescription levels as well as putting a key focus of ‘medicines optimisation’ which ensures that ‘patients are prescribed the right medicines, at the right time, in the right doses’.

Health Minister Lord Syed Kamall added, “Whether it’s helping to change a culture of demand for medicines that are not needed, providing better alternatives and preventing ill-health in the first place, we will take a range of steps to act on this review”.

It is hoped that the review on overprescribing will not only reduce risk for patients but also help reach carbon net zero with medicine currently contributing to 25% of the NHS carbon footprint.

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