Falkirk patients can play their part in reducing GP drugs bill

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Work has been ongoing to reduce the ever-increasing bill for drugs dished out by GPs in Falkirk and the Forth Valley area – and patients can play their part too.

Members of Falkirk’s Integrated Joint Board were told that there were real savings to be made through changes such as swapping costly drugs for less expensive drugs that were just as effective. 

But while the cost of prescriptions for common drugs, such as paracetamol and aspirin, might have hit the headlines recently, it could actually cost more to stop GPs prescribing them.

GP clinical lead David Herron told the board: “The danger is that if you can’t prescribe paracetamol or aspirin, will they just come back and ask for co-codamol?”

He told the board that it was much more difficult to de-prescribe patients and that difficult conversations were sometimes necessary.

“As soon as people hear that something is cheaper, they don’t believe it will work and they will be back in front of you again in a few weeks. There is a placebo effect and there is a negative placebo effect that is very strong,” he told board members.

Service user representative Margo Biggs suggested that a major stumbling block to having the necessary conversations with people was GPs having only ten minutes to spend talking to patients.

Laura Byrne, associate director of pharmacy for primary care, told the board that many initiatives were making GPs more aware when they were giving out prescriptions.

Technology can now flag up to GPs when prescriptions might have a better alternative.

The aim is to ensure medicines are not given where there is little evidence they would help; to highlight where there are cheaper alternatives that are just as effective; and where they are simply repeat prescriptions that may no longer be doing the job.

As pharmacists, she said, they are now encouraging patients to ask “the right questions” of their GPs to help them make realistic choices and only ask for medicine that will really help them.