Academy of Royal Medical Colleges calls for fewer unnecessary treatments

Written by Tom Freeman and John Ashmore on 24 October 2016 in News

Billions of pounds are wasted on treatments that are either ineffectual or actually cause patients harm, senior doctors have said

Blood test - Holyrood

A list of dozens of medical treatments which are over-used or do not benefit patients has been drawn up by the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges in an attempt to highlight waste in the NHS.

The body, which represents 22 royal medical colleges, said billions of pounds could be saved across the UK by cutting the procedures.

Treatments include plaster casts for children with fractures, x-rays for back pain and blood tests to assess menopause. 


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Pressure from patients can lead doctors to prescribe treatments they themselves know are unnecessary, the report warns.

“We’ve been too good at describing the potential benefits and not the potential harms. It’s a natural tendency," said the president of the Academy, Dame Sue Bailey.

"When a patient comes into the surgery the doctor wants to give them something that will help and the patient expects a prescription. With scientific advances there will be more and more things we can do. But the question is: what should we do?”

Among other unnecessary procedures are scans which are not testing for a specific complaint and routine cholesterol checks for patients on statins.

However Dame Sue insisted the Academy's list of treatments was not geared towards saving money, but improving patients' experience.

"We all have a duty to look after resources in healthcare . . . but that’s not the main motivation for this initiative,” she said.

The new campaign follows a call by Scotland's Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood for doctors to be more 'realistic' with medicine and tackle over treatment.

In her annual report Calderwood said involving patients more with decision making would cut the number of treatments. 

“It’s an interesting fact that doctors tend to choose fewer treatments for themselves than they offer to their patients," she said.

“As doctors we should be asking why that is, and whether patients – if better informed – might also choose less intensive and less medicated treatment regimes. A person may achieve a greater quality of their life if less is done - fewer treatments, more targeted medication.” 

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