With one billion prescriptions written every year, it’s time to wean ourselves off the drugs

Medication has reached a shocking level in the UK: the NHS in England dishes out 2.7 million items every single day

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One in four adults takes at least three different prescription drugs a week. That includes me, with five items on repeat prescription for the past three years. Am I contributing to the trend for GPs to overprescribe? Critics claim that this overuse of the prescription pad is crippling the NHS financially and could even be shortening our lives.

A distinguished group of senior doctors (the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges) say the vast number of drugs we consume is cause for concern. They want the NHS to wind back from “too much medicine” and replace it with a culture where patients ask “what happens if I do nothing?” and get told the realistic benefits and potential drawbacks of any treatment or procedure.

Medication has reached a shocking level in the UK: the NHS in England dishes out one billion prescriptions a year to half of the population, 2.7 million items every single day. Add to that the cost of blood tests and millions of routine exploratory procedures and you can see how the NHS could be chucking away money it can’t afford.

One reason for this surge in costs is the way the NHS is structured: hospitals receive funds based on the number of procedures they perform, and GPs get rewarded according to the number of people they diagnose and treatments they prescribe. This seems utterly misguided. Surely it encourages patients to expect miracle cures when (a lot of the time) we could be adopting healthier lifestyles and better pain management. Every time we go to the doctors we want a magic bit of paper or another appointment, instead of being more realistic.

It’s time for doctors to say no every time we ask for a pill or a placebo, and we must start asking whether an X-ray or MRI scan, a blood test or a load of physiotherapy is going to make us feel any better than a hot bath, a glass of wine and a cuddle from a close friend. Almost three-quarters of adults aged over 70 take more than three medicines a week (including statins), but are they effective?

Increasingly, critics say this is debatable. Now the debate about unnecessary medication has sparked off a row about whether psychiatric drugs are effective. More than one in 10 women takes antidepressants, almost twice as many as men. Writing in the British Medical Journal, Professor Peter Gotzsche claims that they can cause up to half a million deaths a year in the Western world, and that drug companies routinely overstate the benefits and play down their side effects. He says that in the US, there are 15 times more suicides as a result of these drugs than official statistics show. He wants prescriptions to be given only in acute situations, with a plan in place to taper off consumption, agreed by the patient.

Antibiotics is another area of gross overprescription. No new drugs have been developed for more than 25 years and many are now ineffective against superbugs. This week, the Government’s adviser has announced he would like countries to work together and set up an international fund to pay for the development of new antibiotics, whose usage should be carefully controlled.

It is imperative that doctors stop dishing them out at the current rate. But isn’t it about time that we took responsibility and got our prescription drug use under control? We need to stop using pills to deal with the difficult bits of everyday life.


This no-nonsense parental advice is music to my ears

The other day, a senior family law judge said that it was the job of parents to make children do the things they find boring or difficult, using the “carrot and stick” approach. To get their way, he said, parents should confiscate mobiles and gadgets, enforce curfews and use threats just “short of brute force”. Notice he did not say “have a chat with your kids about how they feel” – how refreshing.

The former BBC Young Musician of the Year, the violinist Nicola Benedetti, also takes a tough line. She points out that maths, science, history and English are all taught without pupils being consulted about content, and she questions why music should be treated differently.

She reckons children do not understand the value of hard work, and thinks studying music should be compulsory. I can’t thank my parents enough for making me learn music from the age of eight and for taking me to concerts. I grew up thinking that all kinds of music (from jazz to classical) were really rewarding. Music removes prejudices and opens your eyes to so many other disciplines. It’s such an important part of my life.

It’s sadly predictable that the Beatles are to be set as a GCSE exam subject. Why does every area of the curriculum have to be made “accessible”? What’s wrong with highbrow?


Let Prince Charles write what he wants

I’ve never been a huge fan of Prince Charles and inherited privilege, and once made a documentary for Sky suggesting that the throne should pass directly to Prince William. But the letters that have just been published have done the Prince an enormous favour.

He emerges as a far more rounded, intelligent individual than his rather dreary eldest son who is so ill at ease in the public arena and who has never exhibited any interest in high culture, architecture or the environment. I’m even beginning to think that Prince Charles’s PR advisers might have orchestrated the long battle to “ban” publication of the letters, knowing all along that when they were published, they would be totally anodyne.

Now David Cameron is planning to create a veto which would prevent confidential memos written by ministers and letters from the Royal Family being published in future. This is scandalous. Prince Charles should be able to write to the Government about whatever he likes – as long as we can read the correspondence.

Although I’m not a fan of his views on modern architecture and his worship of the Neoclassical, his campaign to save many listed buildings is laudable and his concerns about overfishing are in line with celebrities and chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver. He’s not such a weirdo after all.


No need to suffer from post-Poldark withdrawal

Call me sexist, but there’s a welcome replacement for Poldark on Thursday nights on BBC2. Tom Hughes is utterly gorgeous as an MI5 operative in The Game, an entertaining Cold War thriller set in 1970s London. The only duff note is Brian Cox, his ringmaster, who sports a bizarre marmalade cat hairdo – orange and silver stripes.

Over here, critics have been sniffy – one called the show “Tinker Tailor Soldier Why?” – but when it was shown in the US last year, The Game was well received.

It’s certainly more entertaining than The Affair (Sky Atlantic), a new series starring Dominic West as a middle-class teacher and novelist who falls for a waitress while on holiday. Their relationship is told from both points of view – a tactic used to greater effect in Gone Girl.

My top television pin-up at the moment is still the wonderfully poignant Peter Kay. He can share my car any day.