Fears for 2m pensioners taking multiple drugs
TWO million pensioners are taking at least seven prescription medications – putting them at risk of lethal side effects, a report has warned.
Age UK said three quarters of older patients were likely to suffer adverse reactions because of what it called “polypharmacy”.
The number of emergency hospital admissions linked to such side-effects has risen by 53 per cent in seven years.
Ministers have ordered a review of overprescribing, amid warnings that the drugs bill has risen from £13 billion to more than £18billion in seven years.
One in five of the 1.97million people over retirement age were on at least seven types of drug. And a quarter of those over 85 were on at least eight.
Experts said GPS were too busy to consider complex health problems properly, including the risk of side-effects and drug interactions.
Caroline Abrahams, director at Age UK, said: “There are so many effective drugs available to treat older people’s health conditions, but it’s a big potential problem if singly or in combination these drugs produce side effects that ultimately do more harm than good.”
The charity said all older people taking long-term medicines should be subject to medicine reviews, with “zero tolerance of inappropriate polypharmacy”.
Ms Abrahams urged pensioners on multiple medications to talk to their GP.
“Most older people would agree that the fewer pills they have to pop, the better,” she said.
Side-effects such as confusion, dizziness and delirium can result in elderly people being rushed to hospital or worse.
A 2015 study in Spain found those taking six medicines or more a day were nearly three times as likely to die prematurely than those on no drugs at all.
A review of overprescribing is expected to be reported on next year. Next month Public Health England will publish findings from an investigation of prescription drug addiction, amid concern about the rising number of people hooked on opiate painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressants.
NHS figures show that one in 11 adults have been prescribed potentially addictive drugs in the past year – with a 50 per cent rise in prescribing levels over 15 years.
Ministers said decisive action was needed to stop the problem becoming as serious as in the US.
Two thirds of those on “dependence-forming medicines” are female, typically in their 50s and 60s, according to national research.
Dr Keith Ridge, England’s chief pharmaceutical officer, said: “We know many patients are prescribed medicines they may no longer need or which should be adjusted.”
For that reason, the NHS Long Term Plan was already funding “expert pharmacy teams across the country”, he said. People with longterm illnesses were “often taking multiple medicines for several conditions”, Dr Ridge added.
The teams would supply support to staff, he said. “The NHS is investing in thousands of new clinical pharmacists to work with GPS and care homes to carry out medication reviews with vulnerable patients.”