BSLM welcomes government review of over-prescribing in England

The British Society of Lifestyle Medicine has welcomed a report into overprescribing from the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England which has suggested 10% of medicines prescribed could be unnecessary.

In 2018, the Department of Health and Social Care commissioned Dr Keith Ridge to lead a review into the use of medication and overprescribing. The review aims to reduce inappropriate prescribing while examining alternatives such as social prescribing.

The review has now concluded that overprescribing represents a “serious problem” and that as many as 110 million medicine prescriptions may be given to patients each year which are either not beneficial or even potentially harmful.

The review found that one in six people in England are now taking five or more medicines a day – with one in 14 now on eight drugs a day or more. Spending on drugs by the NHS has risen by an average of 5% a year in the last decade – from £13 billion in 2010/11 to £18.2 billion in 2017/18.

The review examined the potential role of digital technologies, research, culture change and social prescribing, repeat prescribing and transfer of care.

The evidence-based discipline of lifestyle medicine seeks to reduce over reliance on interventions such as medicines and surgery and so welcomes this timely review. For those with chronic illnesses, other interventions which focus on supporting patients to lead healthier lives can often have a much greater impact than medication.

The report also said clinicians can often feel they haven’t got to the root cause of patients’ problems and that treatments have dealt more with the symptoms than the causes.

The report concludes that “both the general public and healthcare professionals over-estimate the benefits and underestimate the harms of medical interventions”. All too often patients are “prescribed a medicine when there would have been a better alternative … for example being given a medicine to reduce their blood pressure when changes to diet and lifestyle would be more appropriate for them.”

Tania Jones, chair of the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine’s Deprescribing Special Interest Group, said: “We welcome the National Overprescribing Report led by Dr Keith Ridge. The report acknowledges the importance of ‘better alternatives’ to medicines including lifestyle interventions and social prescribing.

“The report proposes system and cultural change alongside implementation of a programme of research and training to reduce reliance on medicines. As a special interest group, we look to support BSLM in translating some of these recommendations into a call for action and to share the great work being done by BSLM members in this field. We aim to support this through sharing best practice and education within the BSLM community.”

Lifestyle medicine offers a potential solution to overprescribing because it gives patients with chronic conditions more choices than drugs or surgery – to help them treat and reverse their conditions.

Read the report in full