Government find up to 10% of medicines are prescribed unnecessarily

27 September 2021

The Department of Health & Social Care has published a report following the National Overprescribing Review by Dr Keith Ridge, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England. It estimates that at least 10% of the total number of prescription items in primary care need not have been issued. 

The report also states that overprescribing ‘may disproportionately affect Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities and those who are more vulnerable, such as the elderly and those with disabilities’.

Overprescribing is where patients are given medicines they do not need or want, or where harm outweighs benefits. It occurs when patients are prescribed a medicine when there would have been a better alternative, where the medicine is not appropriate for the individual patient, if the medicine is no longer appropriate or it is continued despite no longer being required.  

The report acknowledges that in the vast majority of cases, a clinician will issue a prescription in the genuine belief that the patient requires it. Overprescribing is rarely the result of a faulty diagnosis, but is thought to be the result of weaknesses in the healthcare system and culture rather than the skills or dedication of individual healthcare professionals. 

The impact of overprescribing is said to include the physical and mental impacts on patients, more hospital visits and preventable admissions, and premature deaths. There is also the financial implication of overprescribing at a time when NHS resources are strained by the COVID-19 pandemic response and increased seasonal pressures. 

The review proposes a year of action to reduce the level of overprescribing in England. This includes shared decision-making with patients, better guidance and support for clinicians, more alternatives to medicine and more Structured Medication Reviews for those with long-term health conditions. The aim is to develop a long term strategy on overprescribing and the review plans to reconvene in a year to consider progress.