“Pill – Kill or Cure”

I first wrote about the excessive amount of pills we all have in our homes way back on the 7th September 2010.

The “Pills for Everything” blog talked about the cure-all drug dependency culture we have developed thanks to the no-charge NHS.  Yes I know we now have prescription charges, and of course we have all paid through our taxes.  Nonetheless we continue to have “free at the point of delivery” expectations.  We also seem to have an implicit belief that pills work – greatly encouraged by “go away” doctors and “come here” pharmaceutical companies.

A reminder of the facts:-

  • 912 million prescriptions in 2007
  • £10billion spent on medicine
  • 10% of the NHS budget

In a rather more tongue in cheek blog – on 19th December 2010 I told the story of “Pilly Galore”.  A typical elderly person with a whole range of ailments from the serious to the insecure.  Secure only in the trust she has in her demigod GP – Astro Glax.

Some more facts:-

  • Every year millions of people are given unnecessary or inappropriate drugs
  • It is estimated £400m of drugs are wasted annually
  • Multiple prescription drugs often have side effects in older people
  • Up to 30% of all hospital admissions in the elderly are caused by inappropriate prescribing

Now comes the sting in the tail.  Recent evidence produced by researchers at Universities of East Anglia and Kent, published in the American Geriatric Society Journal, suggests that combining certain types of drugs is linked to a higher risk of dying or mental decline. Up to half of all elderly people in the UK are taking one or other of the drugs.  In some cases the combination of drugs were found to treble an elderly patients’ chance of dying within two years.

It is not my intention to give medical advice nor am I saying that individual drugs are ineffective or should not be taken.  You should consult your doctor before stopping taking any medication.

However, my point is that many elderly people are like Pilly Galore.  Taking a cocktail of drugs – some which may have been prescribed years ago and never since reviewed, and others which may have just been obtained over the counter without the GP’s knowledge.

For many years I was privileged to be involved with elderly people admitted to nursing homes, most of them recently discharged from hospital.  One of the first and most positive things our nurses did was to recommend to residents’ GPs that they stop prescribing much of the medication residents were receiving.

Taking people off unnecessary drugs like sedatives and antidepressants, often made remarkable improvements to the quality of people’s lives.  You have to wonder whether many of the drugs elderly people were given were more in the interests of carers than the elderly themselves.  A pill is a subtle form of restraint, now it seems a cocktail of pills may be your drink in the last chance saloon 😦 .

The Government, Care QualityCommission and the medical profession should step in and ensure that all elderly people have a medication review in the next six months.  It would save money and lives!

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1 Response to “Pill – Kill or Cure”

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