Doctors must avoid prescribing drugs to patients needlessly as it may be causing them harm, according to top health experts. The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges is urging medics to ‘choose wisely’ and not dole out prescriptions or refer patients for tests simply because they feel under obligation.

The academy – which represents 220,000 doctors in the UK – warns a culture of ‘defensive medicine’ and lack of knowledge is leading medics to overdiagnose and overtreat patients. In guidance issued today, it is urging all doctors to pick five tests or drugs commonly used in their field, and ask themselves whether those things are really necessary. 

The intervention comes as another senior academic warns half a million Western patients are dying each year because they are needlessly prescribed antidepressants, sleeping pills and antipsychotics used in dementia treatment. Professor Peter Goetesce, a renowned Danish researcher, said doctors should stop handing out these drugs altogether as their benefits have been ‘overstated’ by pharmaceutical firms and the side effects are ‘immensely harmful’.

NHS figures show more than a billion prescriptions are handed out in England every year – 2.7million a day – and the number has risen by two thirds in a decade. The academy warns that doctors often feel under pressure from patients to ‘do something’ at every appointment.

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