Overprescribing in the NHS

by Ben Ramanauskas, Policy Analyst

The Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, has ordered a review into overprescribing in the NHS. This is welcome news as NHS spending on medicines in England has grown from £13 billion in 2010-2011 to £18.2 billion in 2017-2018.

This move by Hancock follows on from the good work already undertaken by the NHS under his predecessor, Jeremy Hunt. He clamped down on the prescription of items such as paracetamol and gluten free biscuits. This is a policy victory for the TaxPayers’ Alliance as we pointed out that many of these items can be purchased by patients in supermarkets at a much lower price in a paper last year. The NHS also announced that it was going to stop funding homeopathy - a ‘treatment’ peddled by quacks and charlatans who had been swindling taxpayers for years and which should have no place in the NHS.

The review will look at the role that digital technologies can play in reducing overprescribing. New technologies, AI, and automation have the potential to help to solve complex problems, including those currently being faced by the NHS. This is a positive step as the NHS has sometimes been slow to embrace new technology.

However, things have started to improve in this regard with the NHS identifying issues and barriers to entry and are starting to address them. This is all part of Hancock’s Tech Vision for the NHS, ensuring that barriers to entry are removed and that the latest technology is being used.

In a soon to be published paper, the TaxPayers’ Alliance makes the case for more automation and technology on the NHS. We do so for three main reasons.

First, it has the potential to bring huge savings for the NHS. It means that doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals will be able to perform their duties more efficiently, therefore reducing costs. For example, there is a robot which brings medical supplies to a patients room when requested why a doctor or a nurse. This is a much more efficient use of the doctor or nurse’s time and it allows them to spend more time with their patient.

Second, it is what the public wants. Our research has found that there is a real appetite among people in the UK to digitally manage their health. The majority of adults own a smartphone, and there are already healthcare apps which are available. They allow people to access treatment, monitor their conditions, and stay healthy. They also empower patients, giving them more control over their own health and wellbeing.

There is, for example, technology which uses computer vision which turns a patient’s smartphone into a urinalysis dipstick. There is also a system which allows patients to hold all their medical information in a single record which they directly control and can invite anyone they wish to access.

Finally, and most importantly, it has the potential to improve outcomes for patients. Automated systems and AI can improve diagnostic techniques and patient care. They can also free up healthcare professionals from certain tasks so that they can focus on caring for patients.

For example, there is technology being developed which assists doctors in analysing images from scans, thereby improving the accuracy and increasing the speed of diagnosis. AI is also being used in emergency calls and has detected cardiac arrests with a 93 per cent success rate compared to 73 per cent for humans. What is more, the software makes its determination in an average of 48 seconds, more than 30 seconds faster than humans.

Matt Hancock and the NHS are starting to look at the big challenges and, thanks to their innovative new thinking, have found that technology offers the solution. Accelerating the use of new technology, AI, and automation will reduce the burden on doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who work tirelessly in an overstretched NHS, save taxpayers money, and ensure that patients receive world class healthcare.