How To Check With Your Doctor You're Taking The Right Medication

Millions of prescriptions in the UK "need not have been issued" – here's how to check yours isn't one of them.

It isn’t uncommon for people to be on daily medication but how useful are the meds we’re taking? Around 110 million prescription items given out every year in the UK “need not have been issued”, according to new estimates. Put a different way, that means 10% of the medication we take is “pointless”.

That’s according to a major new government review into the overprescribing of medicines. This is when patients are given medicines they either do not need or want and that, in some rare instances, may harm them, such as the potentially addictive prescription medicines that a 2019 Public Health England report identified a quarter of adults in England are taking. The new review found oversubscribing is a serious problem in health systems around the world.

The NHS has made efforts in halting the overprescribing meds in England but it’s still a problem that remains at “unacceptable levels”, the report has found, with government ministers urging family GPs to call millions of patients in for medication reviews to see whether there are any pills they can stop taking.

Dr Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer for England, led the review and estimates that 10% of the total number of prescription items issued by GP surgeries “need not have been issued”, are inappropriate for the health or wishes of a patient, and could be swapped for better, alternative treatments.

Some 15% of people in England are taking five or more medicines a day, with 7% on eight or more. With 1.1 billion prescriptions items are dispensed in the community in England in 2020/21, this means as many as 110 million could be “overprescribed.”

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The review also found that those “disproportionately affected” by the issue include the elderly, people with disabilities and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. The authors warned that overprescribing can affect these groups when different medicines interact negatively with each other.

Health secretary Sajid Javid said: ”This is an incredibly important review which will have a lasting impact on people’s lives and improve the way medicines are prescribed. With 15% of people taking five or more medicines a day, in some cases to deal with the side effects of another medicine, more needs to be done to listen to patients and help clinical teams tackle overprescribing.”

So, are you taking the right medications?

If your doctor has prescribed something to you, your first reaction is to trust that this has been prescribed for a reason. However, it’s important patients question what’s being prescribed to them and check their medications are necessary.

“Unnecessary prescriptions are a costly issue and mainly come down to a patient not taking medication as intended,” Nabila Chaudhri, director of pharmacy at the online GP service, Babylon, tells HuffPost UK.

“This can stem from a number of factors including not understanding the importance of taking a medicine, experiencing side effects or simply being given the wrong instructions for a medicine.”

Having an honest relationship with your GP is important. When you only have a 10 minute appointment, it can feel like time is tight, but share any relevant information you think you doctor needs to know, and don’t feel uncomfortable asking questions, too.

It will also help ensure you get the right prescription – even if that isn’t meds but what doctors call “social prescribing”, which can mean anything from exercise to volunteering in the community.

How do you have a ‘good’ conversation about meds?

Chaudhri believes a good conversation about medication talks a patient through the various options they might have and the advantages and drawbacks of each one. “The prescriber would explore ideas, concerns, and expectations in relation to medication and treatment. This would encourage a patient to be more willing to take medicines and return and express concerns if they experience any issues or side effects.”

It’s important to note that doctors are not the only prescribers of medication now. “Most GP practices will have a pharmacist who can prescribe medication who you can also book an appointment with,” Chaudhri adds.

If you have any concerns over the medications you’re taking, Chaudhri suggests speaking to a pharmacist, either attached to your surgery or at your local pharmacy – as they often have more time to spend with patients and can check if all your medicines are compatible.

“A pharmacist is an expert in medicines: their training is designed to help patients get the most out of their medication,” she says. “This includes hints and tips to help remember to take them, discussing potential side effects and ensuring medicines are working as effectively as possible.”

Chaudhri adds: “Pharmacists are trained to take a non-judgmental approach and to ensure medicines are ‘optimised’. Pharmacists recognise a medication may not suit everyone and are able to offer sensible and effective alternatives.”