Nearly half of population in England take prescription drugs

HALF of women and 43 per cent of men in England now regularly take prescription drugs according to a health survey published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

Patients in England were issued an average of 18.7 prescriptions per person in 2013 with a cost in excess of £15bn to the NHS.

These statistics are reported in The Health Survey for England 2013 (HSE) which covers a range of health and care topics. The report found that 43 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women surveyed reported that they had taken at least one prescribed medicine in the last week. This proportion was higher among young women than young men but increased with age more sharply in men than women.

Twenty-two per cent of men and 24 per cent of women reported that they had taken at least three prescribed medicines in the last week and this proportion increased with age but did not vary by sex.

The most frequently reported prescribed medicine classes were lipid-lowering (16 per cent of men and 12 per cent women) and antihypertensive (14 per cent and 15 per cent respectively) drugs. A significant number of women (12 per cent) were prescribed analgesics and/or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Simvastatin (cholesterol-lowering agent) was the single most prescribed item with 40 million prescriptions.

Dr Jennifer Mindell of UCL’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health and one of the researchers said: "This is the first nationally-representative study to report on the use of prescribed medicines taken by people in the community, not just those within the healthcare system."

Sue Faulding, pharmacist and programme manager of prescribing and primary care services at the Health and Social Care Information Centre, said: "Prescribing data from general practices can tell us what has been prescribed but not what patients actually take. It is reassuring to see the findings in the HSE study aligns with those from national data. For example we knew that older people are prescribed more medicines particularly for cardiovascular disease and that lipid lowering medicines are the most commonly prescribed. The rates of use of diabetes medicines and antihypertensive medicines seen here align with the prevalence rates for diabetes and hypertension reported in the Quality Outcomes Framework (QOF).]

"This HSE study validates our dispensing data and helps to further contextualise the results. The additional new information about the impact of a wider range of factors on prescribing and use of medicines provides valuable evidence that will enable us to better inform and advise national bodies such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) on how prescribed medicines are used in this country, and by whom."