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Patient safety 'compromised'

6th March 2007

Growing pressure to prescribe cheaper drugs is putting patients at risk, say doctors.

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A survey of GPs in medical journal Pulse found that almost half felt patient safety might be compromised by growing demands from primary care trusts to use the cheapest possible drugs, for example statins, which are used to treat high cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

More than nine out of 10 GPs said they were under pressure to switch patients to the cheapest treatments, while 42% felt the drug-switching scheme used by their PCT compromised patient safety. Several reported incidents of actual patient harm.

A third of GPs felt the demand to cut NHS prescribing costs had affected their ability to take clinical decisions.

Medics said the blanket approach to prescribing meant there was no patient choice. Switching medicines increased the risk of non-compliance and confusion, they said.

Senior GPs expressed concern over the findings of the survey, and said the cost cutting exercise failed to take into account the expense of additional blood tests and investigations required when switching brands.

The National Prescribing Centre said such schemes were necessary, and welcomed the action being taken by many PCTs. It said using cheaper drugs such as statins meant they could be made more widely available and thus improve mortality rates for those with heart disease.

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