The role of doctors and pharmacists in reviewing prescriptions will be looked at in a review into over-prescribing led by NHS England chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge. The review is aimed at bringing down the health service’s medicines spend and limiting the harm over-medication can cause patients.
According to the Department of Health and Social Care, total NHS spending on medicines has climbed from £13bn in 2010-11 to £18.2bn in 2017-18, while Health Survey England 2016 found that nearly half of over-75s surveyed were taking five or more medicines.
Older people are particularly vulnerable to the potential harmful effects of social prescribing and may experience issues such as falls, the DHSC says, leading to higher rates of hospitalisation.
At October’s Pharmacy Show, pharmacist and Primary Care Pharmacy Association chair Graham Stretch urged pharmacists to question whether everything on a patient’s prescription is clinically necessary, saying this is “everybody’s business”.
While most patients take multiple drugs due to specific needs, the DHSC says, it is important to address unnecessary and problematic polypharmacy.
The review will look at areas such as improving communication between primary and secondary care, encouraging patient engagement around repeat prescriptions, and making greater use of digital technologies and non-medicinal care such as social prescribing.
Addressing overprescribing forms part of the health secretary’s prevention agenda, and is already taking place in initiatives like the Medicines Safety Programme and the Medicines Value Programme.
Matt Hancock said: “As we invest an extra £20.5bn a year into our NHS we want to empower doctors and pharmacists to use the data available to ensure patients get the medicines they need and stop taking those that no longer benefit them.”
Keith Ridge said NHS England’s track record “in reducing unnecessary antibiotics and medicines with care homes and GP practices, on polypharmacy, and on beginning to end overmedication for people with learning disabilities, all show what can be – and indeed now is being – done on this important topic.”
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s England board chair Sandra Gidley said: “As people are living longer, often with complex and multiple conditions, the role of pharmacists in reviewing people’s medicines and ensuring they are on the most appropriate medicines for their conditions will become increasingly important.
“For this to truly improve the health and care of patients we need to harness the skills of pharmacists in all care settings, from community to care homes and from GP practices to hospitals.
“By working closely with other health professionals this initiative will help make sure that patients are taking the right medicines at the right time and not taking medicines that they do not need.