Five years ago UK GPs prescribed 721 million drugs, in 2006 the figure rose to 918 million, an increase of £10 billion per year in costs for the National Health Service. Some health experts are concerned that Britain may be turning into a nation of pill-poppers, where a drug is demanded for every ill.

British doctors write 870,000 anti-depressant prescriptions each week, compared to 730,000 five years ago. Paul Flynn, MP, said that British society is becoming medicalised – where people believe they need a pill for everything. The Daily Telegraph quotes a Conservative Party study which indicates that £1 billion has been spent on drugs that patients never used over the past five years.

This is ironic, say many. While more and more possibly unnecessary drugs are prescribed, much needed medications, such as Herceptin for breast cancer, have been denied to patients because of costs. £1 billion would have treated 10,000 patients with Herceptin for one year.

Health experts say the rise in prescription numbers is due to medical advances as well. However, they also add that prescribing practices by GPs could be improved.

Paul Flynn said “We are heading towards pharmageddon. The medicalising of society is convincing people they need a pill for everything. Drug companies recruit patients, particularly good-looking and articulate ones, to help promote new drugs in the media. Life and death decisions should not be taken by tabloids.”

Five years ago doctors wrote 64 prescriptions a day (average), this has risen to 81 today.

Andrew Lansley, Conservative Party (shadow) Health Secretary, said “Every penny wasted is a penny lost to the improvement of NHS treatment. In an NHS that has a postcode lottery on access to NHS drug treatments, surely we must ensure that only those drugs that are really needed and will be used are prescribed.”

According to Professor Gordon Parker, an expert psychiatrist, too many people are being prescribed drugs for depression by GPs when all they are suffering from are “completely normal emotions”. Most GPs say that there are not enough counseling alternatives and other forms of back up – hence they prescribe antidepressants.

Professor Mayur Lakhani, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that there is no evidence people are just becoming obsessed with wanting a ‘pill for every ill’. He added that now is a great time to be a doctor as much more can be done for the patient.

Some GPs have commented that patient expectations are slanted towards using drugs to deal with illnesses and conditions. On the ‘This Morning’ ITV show, Dr. Chris Steele, GP, said that if a GP tells a patient he/she is not prescribing any drugs, but recommends that the patient take up 30 minutes of exercise daily, that patient will completely switch off.

Written by: Christian Nordqvist