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His speech to the Integrative and Personalised Medicine summit in London offers support to doctors who believe “social prescribing” can replace many prescription pills they fear pose a threat to our wellbeing.
Social prescribing empowers people to participate in their own care as an addition, or in some cases an alternative, to drugs.
Opening the conference, Charles will say: “I know a few people have seen this integrated approach as being in some way opposed to modern medicine.”
“It isn’t. But we need to combine this with a personal approach that also takes account of our beliefs, hopes, culture and history.”
“It builds upon the abilities of our minds and bodies to heal, and to live healthy lives by improving diet and lifestyle.”
His appearance is a coup for those pushing the benefits of lifestyle changes over pills, with prescriptions costing the NHS £18billion a year.
Chronic sickness, in many cases rapidly brought on by a poor lifestyle, has seen the drug budget become the second-highest area of NHS spending after staff costs.
Many medics argue the health service will never meet soaring demand until people take more responsibility for their health.
It means moving away from repeat prescriptions for pills, some of which can cause serious side effects, and adopt lifestyle choices such as low-carb diets.
Four months after the Daily Express laid bare the scale of the problem, The Beyond Pills Campaign will use the conference to demand immediate action to address Britain’s “unsustainable prescription service”.
It was set up in response to the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer’s National Overprescribing Review which revealed that 10 percent of prescribed drugs – around 110 million items – are unnecessary and may cause harm.
It said adverse drug reactions account for 10-20 percent of hospital in-patient admissions.
Disturbing data shows at least 15 percent of the population (some 8.4 million people) take more than five different medicines a day – often using one drug to treat the side effects of another.
Dispensing in primary care doubled from 10 prescription items per head a year in 1996 to 20 in 2016.
Dr Michael Dixon, Chair of the College of Medicine, said: “Medicine, as we know it, is no longer affordable or sustainable.”
“Nor is it able to curb the increase in obesity, mental health problems and most long-term diseases.”
“A new medical mindset is needed, which goes to the heart of true health care.”
“The advantages and possibilities of social prescription are limitless. An adjustment to the system now will provide a long-term, sustainable solution for the NHS to meet the ever-increasing demand for funding and healthcare professionals.”
Heidi Alexander, the former Shadow Secretary of State for Health, said: “Having watched my grandmother’s last years revolve around her pill box, and knowing her repeated late-night calls to the ambulance service were as much about acute loneliness as any specific medical episode, it is imperative we find more effective ways of providing health care.”
There are now two million older people on seven or more prescribed medications and not enough GPs.
NHS statistics show one-quarter of the population has a long-term condition, with those aged 60 and over having two or more.
Anti-depressants, statins and diabetes drugs are among the most commonly prescribed.
David Unwin, a family doctor for 35 years who is speaking at the three-day convention, says investment in preventative medicine is key to saving the NHS.
His lightbulb moment came in 2012 when a woman confronted him at his surgery in Southport, Merseyside. He said: “She was absolutely furious at being put on unnecessarily life-long medication. She had gone low-carb and stopped her diabetes drugs, showing they were no longer needed.
“I realised I had been failing my patients for years by swallowing the conventional wisdom that we have to medicate our way out of chronic illness without stopping to think about its actual cause.”
“We need to slash the rise of the drug budget. More importantly, we need a fundamental shift in the way people live their lives if we want the NHS to survive.”
His practice now spends an average £60,000 a year less on diabetes drugs than other local surgeries.
And 112 patients are in drug-free Type 2 remission, achieved by teaching them how to control their diets. Diabetes costs the NHS £15billion a year.
But if every GP practice followed Dr Unwin’s example, the NHS could save £277million – enough to fund almost 3,000 extra doctors, half the number The Royal College of General Practitioners says are now needed.
Comment by Aseem Malhotra
We are facing the worst population health crisis of a generation. Not only has life expectancy stalled in the UK since 2010 but in some parts its actually falling for the first time in decades.
Men in the poorest areas are living 10 years less compared with the richest and for women this is eight years.
What’s worse is we are also living more years in poor health with average differences in healthy life expectancy between rich and poor reaching an almost staggering 20 years.
This has meant more pressure on the NHS which, because of lack of funding and staff shortage, is failing to get heart-attack patients to hospital in a timely manner.
My father died after suffering a cardiac arrest last July because of a delay in the ambulance response.
Of course, the obvious reasons for our worsening health are lifestyle habits, namely poor diet, inactivity, smoking, excessive drinking and chronic psychological stress.
But what many people don’t realise is that over-prescription of drugs is one of the leading causes of death after heart disease in cancer.
In fact 20 percent of hospital admissions among the elderly are due to dangerous drug interactions that are largely preventable. So how did we get to such a dire situation?
Just as the food industry has got us addicted to ultra-processed foods through misleading marketing campaigns, the drug industry has become a menace to societal health too.
Because their only purpose is profit they manipulate research that exaggerates the benefits of medications and hide the data on harms.
Doctors are often then unwittingly prescribing pills to patients on the basis of biased and commercially corrupted information.
Since the 1990s data has consistently revealed most new expensive drugs are just copies of old cheaper medications.
They’re not just a public health menace but also through misleading doctors and the public they have become, like Big Food an enemy of democracy. It’s time to rein them in.
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