You don’t need a pill for every ill

Date published: 05 September 2023


The Department of Health is working with local GPs and Community Pharmacists to focus on how medicines and appliances are prescribed more appropriately.

Department of Health Latest News image white text on a departmental blue background
Department of Health Latest News image white text on a departmental blue background

For patients, this may mean that some of their medicines will be deprescribed, which means their medicines being stopped, changed or the amount they take reduced. This will happen after there has been a review and assessment that the medicine is either no longer needed, is ineffective, inappropriate or unsafe for that patient.

The public is also being asked to think before requesting a prescription for treatment of minor ailments. Ask yourself do you need it, and if so can you purchase it yourself? Ask your pharmacist if you are unsure.   

Over £800m is spent in Northern Ireland each year across our hospitals and in primary care on medicines and appliances such as catheters or stoma bags. We use a lot more medicines in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK. This includes more antibiotics, more painkillers, more baby milks and more nutritional supplements.

The average number of prescription items a year is 23 per person in NI, with an average cost of £245. This cost is the highest in the UK and the volume of prescription items continues to rise each year.

With the health budget under severe pressure, savings on the medicines’ budget can free up much-needed funds for other treatments.

Through this work, the Department of Health is aiming to make savings this year of £9.5m.

Professor Cathy Harrison, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer with the Department of Health said: “It is recognised that there are a number of underlying reasons for our high levels of medicines use and prescribing costs in Northern Ireland. This means that we need a range of solutions to manage the current financial position, and all parts of our health and care service need to work together to ensure that medicines are used in a way that is both safe and cost-effective.

“It is also recognised that a significant amount of work has already been undertaken across HSC in this area and that plans are being developed across the service to continue with this efficiency work in the months ahead.”

Notes to editors: 

  1. Medicines and appliances costs in Northern Ireland exceed £800m per year and are the second largest single investment we make in the health service, after staff.
  2. Deprescribing is stopping medicines or reducing doses that are (i) not helping your condition or possibly harming you (ii) no longer the best treatment for you or your condition either because your condition or health has changed or (iii) new information about the medicines has come to light e.g. new safety issues.
  3. Deprescribing is a planned process, done in partnership with your prescriber. Some medicines need to be stopped slowly, over time, so it is important that you follow your prescriber’s instructions. Further information on deprescribing can be found at Safe and Cost Effective Prescribing - DOH/HSCNI Strategic Planning and Performance Group (SPPG)
  4. GP reviews and assessments will focus on a wide range of commonly prescribed medicines and more details of this can be viewed at Deprescribing & OTC | NI Formulary (
  5. For media enquiries please contact DoH Press Office by email:
  6. Follow us on Twitter @healthdpt
  7. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for Media Enquiries Only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The Duty Press Officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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