NHS wasting £2bn by handing out too many drugs and tests

Academy of Medical Royal Colleges calls on doctors and nurses to stop overprescribing medication

NHS hospital
The NHS ‘winter crisis’ fuelled the need for more beds
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The NHS is wasting more than £2bn a year by giving patients tests, drugs and treatments they do not need, according to a year-long study by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.

The professional body, which represents the country's 250,000 doctors, claims patients are too readily tested, diagnosed and treated for certain conditions.

It has called on doctors and nurses to prevent waste, arguing that it causes delays for other patients seeking help, particularly when the NHS is under unprecedented financial pressure.

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The report found that over £1bn could be saved if doctors did not overprescribe drugs or "overmedicalise" patients who may not have the conditions they are told they have.

Another £221m is spent every year on one in five patients with lumbar spine or knee problems being x-rayed unnecessarily, while £466m is spent on the cost of hospitalising patients who have suffered adverse drug reactions.

The academy pointed to cases of best practice, such as the Royal Liverpool University hospital, which saved £11.5m by switching from twice-weekly to twice-daily ward rounds by consultants. This halved patients' average length of stay and cut bed occupancy by 7.6 per cent.

Meanwhile, the Royal Throat Nose and Ear Hospital in London managed to reduce the number of instruments required for cochlear implant operations from 96 to 28, saving money on cleaning and wear and tear, reports the BBC.

Professor Terence Stephenson, chairman of the academy, said that some findings in the report are the result of doctors doing everything they can to help a patient.

"The public can be very demanding, often fuelled by the internet, and can exacerbate this problem by demanding tests and treatments for which there's no evidence base, such as antibiotics for sore throats," he said. "The relentless demand of the public is for treatment here and now."

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the study builds on the government's recently published report showing that the costs of unsafe care may be as high as £2.5bn a year. He said his department had launched a safety campaign aiming to halve avoidable harm and said today's report "underlines the potential for savings".

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