Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Our pill-popping nation

The latest Health Survey for England, published today, reveals that 50% of women and 43% of men in England take prescription medicines on a regular basis. In 2013, over one billion prescription items were dispensed by community pharmacists in England. That's an average of 2.7 million items every day and 18.7 prescription items per person in England in 2013. The cost to the NHS in 2013 exceeded £15 billion.

Twenty-two percent of men and 24% of women in the survey reported that they had taken at least three prescribed medicines in the last week. Cholesterol-lowering statins, blood pressure medicines, painkillers and anti-depressants were amongst the most commonly prescribed drugs.

In England, more than 15 million people currently have a long-term condition, which is placing a significant burden on health, welfare and social services. According to the Department of Health, this figure is set to increase over the next 10 years, with rising numbers of people suffering from three or more conditions at once. And as the population ages, the problem is likely to get worse.

If you look at some of the medicines being prescribed in large quantities - e.g. statins and blood pressure pills - these are for conditions that are often related to lifestyle choices. According to the Office for National Statistics, nearly one in four deaths - more than 100,000 every year - are potentially avoidable.

It's easy to blame the government, political leaders and healthcare system for the state of the nation's health. But should we also be doing more as individuals?

In November 2014, The Richmond Group of Charities (including the British Heart Foundation, Diabetes UK and Breakthrough Breast Cancer) highlighted that taking action to tackle common risk factors (e.g. smoking, inactivity, unhealthy diet and alcohol) would drastically reduce the number of people affected by conditions such as heart disease, cancer, lung disease and diabetes.

According to the Richmond Group of Charities, as individuals we can try to adopt healthy behaviours to protect and improve our wellbeing - and even if we are diagnosed with a health condition, we can still take steps to improve our quality of life and try to prevent our health spiralling downhill even further.

The facts gathered by The Richmond Group of Charities speak for themselves:

  • 75% of cardiovascular disease is preventable
  • 80% of strokes are preventable
  • Up to 30% of Alzheimer's disease cases are attributable to modifiable risk factors
  • If every woman in the UK was regularly physically active, 9,000 fewer women would develop breast cancer each year
  • Up to half of all cancers could be prevented by changes in lifestyle behaviours.

So should we all be taking a more preventative approach? Should we be looking at keeping ourselves fitter and healthier to avoid taking medicines in the long-term? Or should we just accept that, at some point, we will join the rest of the pill-popping nation.

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