OAPs hooked on a cocktail of drugs EXCLUSIVE
THE Queen’s former doctor has called for specialist medics to make routine visits to care homes and GP surgeries to ensure pensioners are not over-prescribed drugs.
Professor Sir Richard Thompson, former president of the Royal College of Physicians, spoke out amid fears that a generation of people over the age of 65 are being overmedicated.
He said pensioners have become increasingly treated with cocktails of drugs, fuelling record hospital admissions due to side effects such as falls.
He spoke as figures show the number of prescriptions for painkillers and antidepressants have almost doubled in a decade with 91 million issued last year.
One in 10 pensioners over the age of 75 is now on at least 10 different drugs, NHS prescribing data shows, with sleeping pills, opiates and statins among the most common medications.
The average care home resident takes seven drugs, with medication for dementia, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes among those commonly taken.
Some of the drugs cause side effects such as muscle pains, sleepiness or dizziness while others, such as opiatebased painkillers and sleeping pills, can become addictive or result in major health problems.
Sir Richard’s comments came as new figures from the The Royal Pharmaceutical Society showed residents in nursing homes in England receive twice as many antibiotics as those of the same age living in their own homes, potentially harming their health and contributing to the growing problem of drug-resistant superbugs.
Sir Richard said: “Many of the treatments given out are expensive and often side effects are not outweighed by the potential benefits. In many cases people are being kept heavily sedated whilst suffering unnecessary side effects.
“These medicines are not only potentially doing harm but also can we afford them?”
He added: “This is an urgent problem. Hospital-based specialists in elderly care should be working in care homes and going to GP surgeries, visiting every month or two to review patient drug regimens and educate staff.”
Last March Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, ordered the deployment of pharmacists to carry out checks on every care home in the country to review routine medication prescriptions.
Mr Stevens said: “Let’s face it, the policy of ‘a pill for every ill’ is often causing frail older people more health problems than it’s solving.”
Sir Richard said: “Pharmacists have an important part to play but they are not doctors with a specialism in this area so they cannot make clinical decisions, nor lay out care plans.”
Figures from NHS Digital show the number of prescriptions issued for antidepressants continues to rise, with a doubling from 33.8 million in 2007 to 67.5 million prescriptions last year
Meanwhile, the number of prescriptions for opiate-based painkillers rose by 78 per cent from 13.4 million to 23.8 million prescriptions over the same period.
Sandra Gidley, chairwoman of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society England, said the prevalence of antibiotics in nursing homes was a concern.
She said: “Far too many nursing home residents are getting antibiotics they don’t need. “Inappropriate use of antibiotics is fuelling the rise of antibiotic resistance. We need to prevent unnecessary harm to our frail elderly population.”
CALL FOR ACTION: Sir Richard Thompson