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GPs reject drug waste criticism

GPs have reacted angrily to a new report which accuses them of wasteful prescribing and ramps up the pressure for mass switching to cheaper drugs.

The NHS could save at least £200m a year by pressing GPs to switch to generics or cheaper brands, concluded the National Audit Office in its analysis of prescribing costs in primary care.

The report also claimed GPs failed to review prescriptions originating in secondary care and were overly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry.

Edward Leigh MP, Conservative chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: 'GPs are often not providing value for money for the NHS in the way they prescribe medicines. They will need to be less influenced by the blandishments of the drugs industry and more focused on getting value for money in their prescribing.'

But leading GPs dismissed the criticism, with Dr Jim Kennedy, RCGP prescribing spokesperson and a member of the report's expert panel, accusing Mr Leigh of making 'poorly informed and simplistic' comments.

Dr David Roberts, a locum GP in Northamptonshire, said: 'So, once again the usual whipping boy is taking the heat – this time for a relatively small sum on "wasted" drugs.'

The report examined four groups of drugs – statins, PPIs, antiplatelets and ACE inhibitors/ARBs – which together account for 19% of the primary care drugs bill. Had all PCTs in the bottom 75% prescribed as efficiently as the top 25%, £227m would have been saved.

It recommended the NHS develop indicators encouraging systematic prescribing of lower-cost forms of PPIs, antiplatelets and ACE inhibitors, as already exists for statins. The NHS is in the process of considering the development of such indicators.

Dr Nigel Watson, chief executive of Wessex LMCs, said GPs were not opposed to switching but that it was not as straightforward 'as they make out'. He said switching was time-consuming for doctors, confusing for patients and complicated by frequent price changes.

The report, which included a survey of 1,000 GPs, claimed only a quarter of GPs routinely reviewed consultants' prescriptions.

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