It’s imperative we ensure everyone has access to the right medicines, but overprescription and polypharmacy are growing issues that we also need to address. 

Total expenditure on medicines in England by the NHS in 2020/21 was estimated to be £16.7 billion (Source: NHS BSA), and is growing year on year, contributing to the continued rising cost of the NHS. This is amplified by wasted medicines, with a report from NHS England estimating that unused medicine costs the NHS around £300 million every single year. 

As the population ages, more people are living longer with more illnesses to treat. NICE guidelines outline how a quarter of people over 60 have at least two long-term health conditions, but between 30-50% of medicines prescribed for these issues are not taken as intended. 

Overprescribing can lead to preventable hospital visits and admissions, and even premature deaths. It occurs where clinical guidelines only apply for single conditions and not comorbidities, there are few alternatives to prescription, or time is pressured. It often disproportionately affects Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities (Source: Department of Health and Social Care) and those who are more vulnerable, such as the elderly and those with disabilities. 

We’re working nationally to deliver initiatives that concentrate on widening access to medicines, including novel therapies, while delivering programmes in tandem that aim to enhance medicine safety across the system. At the core, we’re supporting healthcare professionals to identify patients at risk and encourage better conversations around medicines.

Programmes and initiatives


Together, we can avoid severe medication-related harm caused by problematic polypharmacy by identifying local priorities and patients in high-risk groups.

Collection of tablets in blister packs scattered on table

Reducing opioid use for non-cancer pain

Together, we can improve chronic non-cancer pain management by reducing high-risk opioid prescribing.

Two people sitting at desk, looking at computer screen

Previous programmes

Transfer of care around medicines (TCAM)

We helped to identify patients that need extra support with medicines when discharged from hospital, referring them for advice from their local community pharmacist through a safe digital platform.

Man sitting at desk, looking at computer screen

Reducing clinically important errors in general practice prescribing

Together, through this PINCER intervention, we searched GP clinical systems using computerised prescribing safety indicators, identifying patients at risk from their medications and acting to correct the problem.

Nurse smiling with patient