Millions of pensioners are being given drugs they don't need due to 'systematic failings' in the NHS, a startling report warns today.
Two million over-65s – 20 per cent of pensioners – now take at least seven different medications each day, it found. Some 39 per cent are on at least five prescription drugs.
And the overwhelming majority of pensioners – 86 per cent – are taking at least one medicine.
The report, by the Age UK charity, warns that the medicalisation of the elderly is putting many people at risk of serious side effects.
'Many older people are being let down by a healthcare system that is allowing medicines to do more harm than good,' it warns. The problem is being allowed to persist because of systematic failings in care co-ordination, communications and individual responsibility.'
The authors stress that many of these are life-saving medicines. But they estimate that roughly a fifth of all prescribed drugs are incorrectly given – and such high use is putting elderly people at risk of unnecessary side effects such as falls, nausea, delirium and weight loss.
Other experts said many pensioners are effectively being 'sedated' with a cocktail of drugs. A 'chemical cosh' of medication puts their lives at risk.
More than three quarters of people over the age of 70 experience an adverse drug reaction in any six-month period – and the problem causes 6 per cent of emergency hospital admissions.
The Age UK report says: 'The risk of older people being prescribed dangerous combinations of medicines is particularly high because they are often already taking multiple medicines, and the risk increases as the number of medicines a person takes goes up.
'Once you are taking more than four medicines, the chance of an adverse drug reaction gets exponentially worse for every new medicine you take.'
The figures are based on a snapshot of NHS Digital data gathered in 2016 and do not look at how prescriptions have changed over time among the elderly.
The report by Age UK also estimates that roughly a fifth of all prescribed drugs are incorrectly given (file photo)
But the authors stressed that among all ages the NHS is doling out more drugs than ever before, with spending on prescriptions having increased by 40 per cent since 2011.
And with 60 per cent of all drugs given to over-60s, the figures suggest the problem is getting worse. A large part of the problem is our growing and ageing population, while rising obesity, and unhealthy lifestyles mean poor health is more common than in the recent past.
But the authors also blame rushed doctors, who they say are not taking the time to properly assess the drugs they give out. And when patients start taking medications they continue to do so for years without anyone reviewing the prescriptions.
Even when GPs do look over someone's notes they are often 'reluctant' to question colleagues' decisions,