How many people take prescription drugs in the UK?


Apparently almost half the adults in my age group (45-54 years) take a prescription drug and unsurprisingly this grows as age increases.  For my age group it appears men and women are very similar and this makes fascinating reading in a recent BBC article.

And yet these figures do not include prescriptions for smoking cessation garbage or contraceptives.  The overall cost for England is over £15billion and millions and millions of prescriptions are issued every year.  Now it has to be said, some of these prescriptions will be for people wanting to stay healthy and these include prescriptions for maintaining blood pressure and statins for lowering cholesterol.  Also within this will be medications for people who have really serious conditions or disabilities which are not of their making – some diseases and genetic conditions cannot be avoided.

This all seems incredible.  The rates of anti-depressants is startling as 10% of women take these, compared to 5% of men.  This is linked to wealth as poorer communities have a markedly higher rate in needing such drugs, compared to considerably less in affluent areas.  Hardly a coincidence that more prosperous areas are healthier all round and have active life styles.  Poorer areas tend to have higher rates of alcohol abuse and other social problems.

Dr Sarah Jackson from University College London said “It’s well known that rates of depression are much higher among women than men, so I am not surprised to see that antidepressant use follows the same pattern in this study.

“People with depression are less likely to be in regular employment, and people who are unemployed or in low paid jobs are more likely to have depression.”

And further more Sue Faulding, a pharmacist and programme manager of prescribing and primary care services helpfully reminded everyone “Obesity is often associated with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, joint pain and depression. Lifestyle changes are always recommended in the first instance, but medicines can help to address the symptoms and this study shows that medicine use increases steadily with body mass index.”

My own view on this

You can probably tell what’s coming now.  I want to do everything I can to avoid getting sucked into being a regular patient at my Doctor’s surgery.  I know that because of my age I would be a prime candidate for statins and could easily find myself on blood pressure tablets (even for a regular 120/80!).  I would feel ILL if I had to go along this road which I would see as a gradual creep for one prescription after another, each causing side effects which then are treated with other drugs.  Thoughts of sitting in waiting rooms with obese, unhealthy looking people who are coughing and sneezing all over me is something I will avoid like the plague.

So, my general approach is two fold:

Staying healthy

  • Stay healthy and maintain my good weight.  My BMI is 22 and that suits me fine.  In fact I feel better when I’m lighter and my BMI is lower.
  • I eat lots of fruit and I make sure I have a good variety through the course of a week.  I have increased my vegetable intake gradually as well.  All this adds up to about 10 different portions a day.
  • I make sure I get plenty of exercise – mostly running at present but cycling is in there too.  Sometimes I swim (not at all good at this) and I am stretching a little more now because I sometimes feel too stiff.
  • I sleep really well.  Even though I have lots of hassle, pressure and anxieties at work, I always fall asleep quickly.  I fear the work-related stress is arguably the biggest threat to my health.
  • I haven’t smoked a cigarette for 20+ years and I am ashamed that I ever did.  There’s no way I will ever light up a cigarette again for as long as I live.
  • Likewise I became tee-total over 20 years ago and I don’t intend to ever drink alcohol again, not that I was a heavy drinker or smoker in the first place.

Regular check-ups

  • Have a regular check-up at the Doctor’s surgery.  Normally you can get away with seeing the nurse, who takes all the usual measurements and sends a blood sample off for analysis.  This is a good way of knowing that I’m on track and nothing serious is lurking there.
  • Have regular dental check-ups and I respect my dentist and follow her advice as I want to keep my teeth for the next 50 years.  Besides, dental health is more than simply drilling out any decay.  My dentist checks all around in my mouth for any bumps and feels my neck, glands and jaw.  She is, as you will gather, looking for any obvious signs of cancer and other things.  My dentist is supportive of my desire to avoid getting sucked into being a regular user of NHS services – that is quite refreshing!
  • Have a regular check-up at the Opticians.  I do begrudgingly accept I need to wear glasses for reading and anything close up.  Damn I hate this and find it hard to accept such a regular reminder of this so called “middle age” lark.  So apart from making sure I have the right lens prescription, it is a window on the rest of the body and can be an early warning of other conditions.

Now of course, having these check-ups is all very well but what happens if something is found to be wrong?  Often the NHS approach is to say “something isn’t quite right, here, have a prescription” instead of tackling the cause or finding an alternative approach i.e. diet and the rich source of goodness from natural food.

Arguably my most important attribute is a positive approach.  I am naturally an optimistic person, or as they say “half full, not half empty”.  Sometimes people can think themselves into being ill and almost want to be ill and poorly.  No flippin’ way!  I have the rest of my life before me and I want to make the most of it.  I enjoy being healthy and active and I am so grateful for this.

Now none of us know what’s around the next corner.  Unforeseen things can happen so I cannot say I will be active and healthy in 50 years time but I’m going to give it a good shot, God willing.


I suspect I am becoming more and more of a minority with my views: is this true?  Are we becoming over-reliant on prescriptions and taking easy treatments from the NHS instead of taking a bit more responsibility for our own health?  Am I being reckless with my own health and setting a bad example to my family?

I’d be really interested to hear from others on this, especially if you’re a Doctor, nurse or health professional.  Either leave me a comment below or use the Contact screen to reach me personally.

This entry was posted in ethical, health and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How many people take prescription drugs in the UK?

  1. velovoiceblogspot says:

    If you’re a minority, then I’m part of it with you! Unfortunately, I have 3 congenital conditions that have finally (due to progression with age) mean I have to take prescription medications for them. My number one concern though is the ever-increasing resistance to antibiotics. In just a few years time, we could find ourselves right back in pre-penicillin days with no way to treat infections. In the past few years I’ve become increasingly susceptible to sinus infections and they are becoming so “chronic” that I don’t properly recover from one before the next arrives. My GP has a special interest in ENT issues and we’re trying all sorts of things, but inefficient processing at NHS hospitals is not getting us any nearer an antibiotics-free solution. Cycling in cold air doesn’t help but I’m not quite prepared to give up pedalling until spring.

    • doug says:

      That prospect of bugs being resistant to antibiotics is indeed a really big concern, arguably for the whole nation and I’ve heard this suggested before. Hard to know where it’s all going to go.
      Sounds like you’re in good hands with your GP and it’s good to know different things are being tried, that’s refreshing. But hey I can’t imagine you ever giving up cycling…. must catch up on this sometime.
      Best wishes,

  2. Paul says:

    Well presented post. It should be framed on the walls of all GP surgeries. With society developing into a me, me world and with the blurring of right and wrong it’s no wonder so many people are on medication. Here in Ireland things are no different as we slip down the slippery slope of moral dereliction and an uncaring attitude towards the needs of others. I could go on but I won’t ! However cycling is one way to improve one’s lifestyle, mind set and attitude. Cycle on…

    • doug says:

      Many thanks Paul, much appreciate your kind comment. You’re exactly right about cycling improving lifestyles, mind sets etc.

Leave a Reply to Paul Cancel reply