Poor instructions on medicine ‘wastes NHS Scotland £50m’

Professor Simon Maxwell said doctors do not always have time to explain complex treatment regimes to their patients. Photograph: Liukov Maksym

Professor Simon Maxwell said doctors do not always have time to explain complex treatment regimes to their patients. Photograph: Liukov Maksym

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Patients failing to take their medication properly due to poor instruction or confusion costs the NHS £50 million a year, a leading scientist has claimed.

Some patients are taking more than ten drugs at once, while overstretched doctors do not always have time to explain complex treatment regimes to their patients, Edinburgh University expert Professor Simon Maxwell claimed.

The cost to the NHS in Scotland of people not taking their medicines properly and failing to get the full health benefits is estimated at more than £50m a year, according to analysis of figures presented by the British Pharmacological Society.

Prof Maxwell said the issue was a growing concern as the population ages and medicines increase in cost and sophistication.

He said: “It’s a huge challenge. Over-complex regimens with too many medicines being prescribed can mean people don’t understand what they are taking or why. Often patients are not being properly informed of everything so that they properly buy into their treatments. This is obviously a particular danger with older people or those with mental health problems.”

There are about 100 million prescriptions written by GPs each year in Scotland and doctors often only have ten minutes to speak to a patient, he said. Without proper engagement with their doctor on why the medicines are important, people can often forget to take the pills, or they give up if they feel their condition is not improving, Prof Maxwell added.

Prescription drugs cost NHS Scotland around £1.5 billion per year, working out at about 15 per cent of the health service’s annual budget.

Prof Maxwell’s warning follows calls from Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood for doctors to put aside a culture of “Doctor Knows Best” and embrace a culture of more realistic medicine.

She urged doctors not to over-treat patients, to prevent waste and help manage resources, in her inaugural report, published in January.

Phil Willan, of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority, said: “Communication has to be a priority in what little time patients have during appointments with their doctor or discussions with their pharmacist.”

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