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Northern Ireland GPs top UK table for handing out tranquillisers

By Catherine Lynagh

Doctors in Northern Ireland prescribe more sleeping tablets, anti-depressants and obesity drugs than anywhere else in the UK.

The province also has the |second-highest prescription rate of anti-depressants in Europe.

Recently released figures show that we’re prescribed double the amount of sleeping tablets than England, Scotland and Wales.

And that the annual bill of medicines here is £400m, averaging £224 per person, £60 more than what is spent in England.

According to the Health and Social Care Board, money must be saved and therefore less expensive drugs must be used.

Board head of pharmacy Joe Brogan said the public's health would not be compromised.

“I can assure the public that will not happen,” he said. “Our aim is to continue to provide a good service, treating patients to the best of our ability but by using less branded medicines which are of still high quality.

“The public will not notice any difference.”

Contributing to the high spend are prescriptions for illnesses still associated with the troubles |and using expensive brands to treat them.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists said The Troubles had not only impacted on the current generation, but also their children.

RCP policy officer Dr Maria O'Kane said: “We would hope that with the continued development of psychiatric treatments, that the uses of these medicines and their costs would diminish, but that is not going to happen overnight or even in years to come.”

The Health and Social Care Board plans to make up to £41m of savings in medicines by March next year by prescribing fewer branded medicines. According to the board, people will be prescribed fewer branded medicines and instead receive generic or cheaper alternatives.

By using alternatives to Lipitor and Crestor, which are both prescribed for treating high cholesterol, Northern Ireland could make annual savings of around £7m. Instead of treating patients who have osteoporosis with a branded drug such as Actonel, |alternatives would result in |savings of around £3m.

The chair of the Assembly's health committee, Jim Wells, has welcomed the move.

“The committee has consistently called upon the board to promote the use of generic drugs,” he said. “They cost a fraction of the branded alternative and are equally effective.”

Local health charities said any money saved should be ploughed back into the service.

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