Patients urged to rely more on doctors' advice: Spending on NHS drugs has risen 13 per cent, writes Judy Jones

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The Independent Online
PATIENTS should accept more advice and fewer drug prescriptions when they visit their family doctor, the Government urged yesterday, after official figures showed a 13 per cent rise in the cost of National Health Service medicines over a year.

Doctors' leaders denied they were over-prescribing and insisted that an ageing population, the social effects of the recession, and the availability of new treatments were largely to blame for the steep increase in costs.

Brian Mawhinney, Minister of State for Health, said that everyone had a part to play in eliminating waste and avoiding unnecessary spending on prescription drugs - now at a record pounds 2.85bn. 'We have come to expect a pill for every ill. We should be ready to accept a doctor's advice, and reassurance on minor ailments, rather than expecting a prescription at the end of consultation,' he said. The latest figures will increase pressure for effective action by health ministers to curb soaring drug costs. More generic prescribing - of cheaper, unbranded drugs - is expected to feature this autumn in a programme of government measures to bring down the bill.

The total number of prescription items dispensed in 1992 was 425 million, an increase of 4.6 per cent over 1991. Each of us, on average, had 8.8 prescription items dispensed last year, up from 8.5. People in Merseyside, the North and North-west received more prescriptions than elsewhere in the country.

The British Medical Association denied suggestions that doctors in the United Kingdom were profligate in their prescribing habits, and pointed out that their counterparts in most other European Community countries handed out more medicines.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry reported last week that the average number of items prescribed last year in France was 38 per head, in Italy 21, and in Portugal, 17.

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