Changing the conversation about health

Overprescribing must stop, says new Government report

The College of Medicine’s Chair has welcomed plans by the Government to reduce the overprescribing of medicines.

A report published this week announced action to prevent medicines being prescribed unnecessarily, following a new review led by the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England.


The review outlines changes that aim to ensure ‘patients are receiving the most appropriate treatment for their needs while ensuring clinicians’ time is well spent and taxpayer money is spent wisely.’

The report suggests that a tenth of medicines prescribed in England by primary care could be improved or aren’t appropriate, with 15 per cent of people currently using five or more medicines on a daily basis.

Around one in five hospital admissions in over-65s are caused by the adverse effects of medicines.

A new Government-commissioned review into overprescribing, published on September 22, suggests that a tenth of all items dispensed in primary care are inappropriate or could be improved (Picture: Pixabay)

Since 1996, the number of medical prescriptions have doubled, with repeat prescriptions, often requiring no direct dialect with a GP, making up 75 per cent of items dispensed.


A prescribing tsar will be appointed to monitor more effective use of prescriptions and to encourage clinicians to use social prescribing – considering alternatives to medicines – if they would be more effective.

Chief pharmaceutical officer for England, Dr Keith Ridge, said: “Medicines do people a lot of good and this report is absolutely not about taking treatment or services away from people where they are effective. But medicines can also cause harm and can be wasted.”

Chair of the College of Medicine, Dr Michael Dixon, said: “The College has been redefining medicine beyond pills and procedures, and sees social prescribing as having a key role to play.”

“Giving patients the opportunity to be in charge of their own destiny by tackling what matters to them is not only a way of reducing the problem of overprescribing, but can also help to tackle inequalities, reduce the NHS prescription drugs budget, and lead to a fairer, more sustainable healthcare system.” 

The College of Medicine was founded in 2010 with an aim to reform healthcare, and has championed the use of social prescribing, an approach in which health practitioners use local social resources to prescribe beyond the bio-medical. 

For example, signposting a patient to a local exercise class, community kitchen, or gardening group, might address both social connectedness as well as weight or health issues.  

Chair of the Royal College of GPs, Prof Martin Marshall, told the BBC: “Prescribing is a core skill for GPs and many of our nurse and pharmacist colleagues in primary care and doing whatever we can to prescribe the most appropriate medicine for our patients, in an evidence-based way is something we strive to do on a daily basis – and in the vast majority of cases, this review shows this is happening.

“With our growing and ageing population, with more patients living with multiple, chronic conditions, many people are taking several medications in order to manage their various health illnesses, and the interaction between various medicines is something prescribers will take into account.

“In most cases, these medicines are necessary, appropriate and of benefit for the patient – but the aspiration to reduce the number of medications a patient is taking, where safe and possible, is a good one.

“GPs will only ever prescribe medication to patients in conversation with them, and after a frank discussion about the risks and benefits of the treatment – and when alternative options have been explored.

“What GPs and other members of the practice team often need, however, is better access for their patients to alternative, non-pharmacological treatments, which can be patchy across the country.”