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NHS costs: Battle to slash prescriptions that drain health service of £18bn

Question Time: NHS worker outlines frustration over pay

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Dr Aseem Malhotra, NHS consultant cardiologist and president of the Public Health Collaboration, said: “The figures are truly shocking. “Over-prescribing is now one of the greatest threats to public health, with one estimate suggesting that because of side-effects, pharmaceutical drugs are the third biggest killer globally after heart disease and cancer. “It’s time to put social prescribing at the heart of every patient encounter.”

One in five GP appointments is for non-medical reasons, including relationship problems, loneliness and isolation, for which the NHS cannot help.

Experts think social prescriptions – where doctors send patients to exercise, art and meditation classes – could help many people while relieving pressure on overworked GPs.

Prof Dame Helen Stokes-Lampard, family doctor and chair of the National Academy for Social Prescribing, said: “Social prescribing can take pressure off GPs by helping people get the
support they need within their community – but just as importantly it helps people to take more control over their own health.”

The push for alternative ways to help the sick comes as at least 10 percent of prescribed drugs (some 110 million items) are unnecessary and may cause harm, while adverse drug reactions account for up to 20 percent of in-patient admissions, according to the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer’s National Overprescribing Review.

Data shows at least 15 percent of the population (some 8.4 million people) take more than five different medicines a day, often using one drug to treat the side-effects of another.

Dr Michael Dixon, chairman of the College of Medicine, said: “Medicine, as we know it, is no longer affordable or sustainable.

“Nor is it able to curb the increase in obesity, mental health problems and most long-term diseases. A new medical mindset is needed.”

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Comment by Dame Helen Stokes

Around one in five GP appointments is for social rather than medical reasons – relationship problems, isolation and worries about finances, personal safety or housing.

These issues can have a huge impact on health but cannot be fixed by GPs or the NHS.

People may struggle to tackle these due to a lack confidence, time or money or have caring responsibilities and health problems.

Social prescribing link workers – often based in GP surgeries – are there to help. They get to understand individuals’ circumstances and help them identify the support they need.

They may accompany people to a new activity or support group as well, ensuring they feel comfortable when they arrive.

Research from the National Academy for Social Prescribing shows that such help can reduce loneliness, improve well-being and have a positive impact on a wide range of health conditions.

It can take pressure off GPs but, just as importantly, it helps people to take more control over their own health.

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