Doctors’ duty to prevent waste

A report by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said that doctors have an ethical duty to prevent waste in the NHS and its authors point to potential savings of nearly £2bn. Examples include better use of medication, tests, hospital beds and operating theatres.

The British Medical Association said doctors were ideally placed to identify savings, but patients must come first. The health secretary said he was determined to tackle avoidable waste in healthcare.

Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England Medical Director stated that “We need to be innovative to tackle the huge financial challenges we are facing, but there are also some more everyday changes that we can make to improve efficiency. This report neatly embodies some practical ideas for more efficient practice.”

There are 16 examples of changes to clinical practice which have saved money and benefited patients. They include medication reviews to prevent adverse drug reactions, which account for 6% of all hospital admissions. The report says eradicating this problem would save £466m. It also suggests more than £200m could be saved by stopping unnecessary scans.

Other recommendations include:

  • Prescribing lower-cost statins, which could save £85m
  • Reducing unnecessary face-to-face contact between patients and healthcare professionals by using technology such as e-mail and Skype
  • Cutting the number of X-rays for lumbar spine or knee problems, which could save £221m
  • More frequent consultant ward visits to ensure patients can be discharged promptly

The report does not provide a definitive total of potential savings, but indicates what a change in culture, where doctors resolve to eradicate waste, could potentially deliver.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We have launched a safety campaign aiming to halve avoidable harm and recently published a report showing the costs of unsafe care may be as high as £2.5 billion a year. Today’s report builds on this and underlines the potential for savings.”

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