Government plans changes to tackle overprescribing

The UK Government is set to implement changes that will prevent the over-prescribing of medicines, following the publication of a recent review.

Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England, Dr Keith Ridge CBE, led a review which found that “10 per cent of the volume of prescription items dispensed through primary care in England are either inappropriate for that patients’ circumstances and wishes or could be better served with alternative treatments.” 

The changes will include appointing a National Clinical Director for Prescribing, who will lead a three-year programme to support effective prescribing. There will also be system-wide changes to improve patient records and support the link between primary and secondary care.

In addition, a national toolkit is set to be produced to help general practice and refine the consistency of repeat prescribing. A new platform will be set up on the NHS website to give patients a better understanding of their medication, as well as to connect them to local community services.  

Health Minister Lord Syed Kamall said: “This vital review is a significant step forward which will benefit patients across the country, and we will help ensure busy primary care teams are supported with improved systems and resources. 

“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. 

The review also suggests that overprescribing can also cause environmental damage, with 25 per cent of the NHS’s carbon footprint taken up by medicines and some prescription medication producing significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. The NHS has committed to be net-zero by 2040.  

Dr Keith Ridge CBE, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England, said: “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. 

“This report recognises the strong track record of the NHS in the evidence-based use of medicines, thanks to the clinical expertise of GPs and pharmacists and their teams, and our achievements to date in addressing overprescribing, which is a global issue. 

“Continuing to tackle overprescribing requires a whole system approach involving clinicians and patients, so we can continue to build the change we all wish to see in how medicines are used for the benefit of patients, and with medicines production and use a major driver of greenhouse gas emissions – contributing to the NHS’s net-zero ambition.” 

The recommendations made by the review have been accepted – with reforms to pharmacist training already underway.  

The full review is available, here.