‘Too many medications and not enough health,’ says Professor Clare Gerada, GP and former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP). No-one could deny that for many people medication is a life-saver, and there are genuine reasons to take drugs for specific conditions. However, the fact that 50 per cent of British women and 43 per cent of men are taking prescription drugs is quite shocking, and it has to be asked, are they really necessary?
The NHS is spending more than £15 billion a year on doling out drugs, according to the latest Health Survey for England, and as we know it is a cash-strapped service. This doesn’t even include the amount it costs to provide contraceptives and nicotine replacement therapy to help people to give up smoking.
The average number of prescriptions per person in the UK is around 19 a year, yet some people don’t take any drugs. The most heavily-prescribed drugs are statins to lower cholesterol, followed by aspirin and other painkillers, and drugs to reduce blood pressure. When people reach 65 the chances are that they are taking three lots of medication and when they get to 75 this doubles to six.
There are reports of older people being on so much medication that they need a large carrier bag to transport the tablets. When someone gets to this point they are taking medicines to counteract the side-effects of the others, and so it goes on.
One in nine British women takes anti-depressants, and the sad thing is that while many people would benefit from counselling or therapy, it takes so long to get an appointment on the NHS, that many are not getting the help they need.
According to Professor Clare Gerada, ‘We are over-treating and over-diagnosing. I’m being asked in the consulting room to medicate great swathes of the population. We know that almost everyone over 50 is being told to go on a statin.
‘The more medicines you take, the more contact you have with health services, the less well you feel. Do the things that make you feel better – lose weight, take exercise, don’t smoke and moderate drinking.’
Read our article: Cholesterol – are statins the only answer? and Coping with Depression.