Why Is Overprescribing a Serious Concern for the UK?


    The phenomenon of ‘overprescribing’ has been gaining more and more public visibility in recent years, with a government-commissioned review suggesting that up to 15% of people are on five or more separate medications – and that 10% of all items dispensed in primary care are prescribed inappropriately. But what does this mean? What are the consequences, and how do we meaningfully tackle the issue?

    What Is Overprescribing?

    Overprescribing is simply the practice of medicines being prescribed to patients who may not need or want them. In many cases, medicines are prescribed to counter-act the side effects of medications already prescribed to a patient – but which may well have their own, conflicting side-effects. Research is still ongoing into how the phenomenon has become so prominent, but early indications are that breakdowns in communication between medical practitioners, and the abundant availability of certain medications, may be contributors.

    The Consequences of Overprescribing

    Overprescribing may happen where a patient has seen more than one medical practitioner, each of which have utilised prescriptions to remedy a complaint – whether or not that complaint relates to another medication. Side-effects between medicines can often conflict, resulting in a worsening of conditions, or the creation of conditions which did not otherwise exist in the patient. In many cases, some prescriptions may no longer be necessary, or outdated by newer, better alternatives, but the patient’s prescriptions are not optimised to reflect these changes.

    But the problem with overprescribing isn’t localised to individual cases regarding conflicting side effects. The ramifications of the phenomenon are much wider-reaching, wherein more vulnerable patients with learning disabilities are disproportionately affected by overprescribing – the reasons for which are currently under review, but could reflect systemic biases in the medical establishment.

    Measures and Alternatives

    So what is there to be done about overprescribing? Since the government’s initial 2019 review into the phenomenon, a further review is being undertaken – which includes the aforementioned review into the effects on those with learning disabilities. In the meantime, suggestions have been made that cuts to non-pharmacological solutions could be somewhat responsible, and a return to therapeutic treatments could prevent the practice from continuing in the future.

    While not a solution to the current situation with regard to overprescribing, those directly affected by overprescribing could make the use of a no-win-no-fee medical negligence solicitor – a move which could generate valuable compensation, and raise the public profile of the issue in the process.

    The government’s initial review also included recommendations to improve patient records and handover between primary and secondary care units – eliminating the possibility of misunderstandings between practitioners. Other recommendations were all based in future research and evidence-finding – indicating that overprescribing will continue to be an issue for some time. All that remains is for pressure groups and victims of overprescribing to raise further public awareness, in hopes of creating enough pressure to expedite the process.