Thursday, 19 July 2012

Infographic #1 - the scale and cost of England's pill-popping

Today I upload my very first infographic (well that which I am prepared to share anyway!). The infographic shows the scale and cost of prescriptions in England in 2011. I don't know how you will react to it (by all means, please do leave comments), but for me I was absolutely staggered, shocked and aghast at the sheer numbers of pills that we as a nation consume. There were 32 million prescriptions issued for aspirins last year which equates to approximately 1.078 billion tablets, sachets and suppositories. Remember, this is just England, and not all UK!

Our over-reliance on pharmaceuticals has long been something of concern to me, not least because I lost my grandfather a few years ago after he passed away from internal bleeding as a result of taking Aspirin, something he was prescribed to help thin his blood. He was a big bloke with a fondness for beer and large portions (especially meat, potatoes, pastry, etc.) and boy did he load the salt on to every meal he ate!!

Of course, whilst I do not for a second doubt that there are many people out there for whom prescribed drugs provide a great deal of much-needed relief to their condition, the top five prescription items in their own right really paint a picture of the mess we are in as a country.

The number one drug is Simvastatin, which is described as a lipid-regulating drug. It is used to treat high cholesterol and also for preventing cardiovascular "events" amongst at-risk patients. The NHS Choices website lists many modern-day vices as primary causes for high cholesterol, including an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, obesity, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, and smoking. Looking at the information on the remaining four drugs, it is almost certain that a large part of the conditions that are treated by these drugs are similarly lifestyle-related. Hypertension, peptic ulcers, hypothyroidism, and cardiovascular disease are undoubtedly symptomatic of unhealthy lifestyles.

Perhaps this would not be quite so alarming if we did not also consider the amount of taxpayer money that is paid to large pharmaceutical companies in combating these problems. Nearly £9 billion was spent on prescriptions last year by the NHS, that's £9,000,000,000 - a lot of zeros!!! I often think millions and billions are pretty abstract numbers and hard to really get a handle on, but when I looked at the debt levels of African countries on the Worldbank website I was amazed to find that our pill bill exceeded the debt of Somalia, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe combined. A sobering thought indeed.

Anyway, I intend on creating a few more infographics from these data as there is so much interesting information in there, and as you can probably tell, I am pretty passionate about this subject area. I do hope you like it. 

PS: I'm trying out Closr for the image hosting, just click on the full-screen icon to see it up close. I'm hoping to find something a little better, but this will have to do for now!

1 comment:

  1. I think this raises (at least!) two questions. Firstly and hugely, why the prescriptions? Is every single one genuinely needed, or is it easier to prescribe a drug than it is to investigate the issue and make more fundamental lifestyle changes, or is it even that people feel "fobbed off" with advice to become more healthy, and don't feel a healthcare person has helped unless they are prescribed some medication?

    Secondly, as it is government advice and regulations or lack thereof that has led to so many health issues that are directly linked to these medications, along with a host of other costs, what the hell are they playing at? Does the money gained from advertising revenue, tax, sponsorship deals (hello McDonalds and CocaCola Olypmics!) and other interests from the food lobbies and corporations make this bill worthwhile in the wider sense?

    No answer to those, but a great image and data set to explain a huge issue!