Pensioners are being 'poisoned' by strong medication

Pensioners are being ‘poisoned’ by strong medication because clinical trials use younger people as guinea pigs, NHS boss warns

  • Older patients can be prescribed between ten and 20 types of medication at once
  • This leads to the risk of adverse effects when drugs interact with each other
  • 6.5 per cent of patients at hospitals were admitted because of drug reactions

Pensioners are being poisoned by medication because the elderly are excluded from clinical trials, an NHS chief warned yesterday.

Sir Munir Pirmohamed said older patients are often unable to process strong pills yet can be prescribed between ten and 20 different types of medication at once. He said this led to the risk of adverse effects when drugs interact with each other.

‘Most drugs have been tested in younger people, and tested in people without multiple diseases,’ he told a House of Lords committee. ‘When we use a drug at a dose that is licensed, we’re often poisoning the elderly because of the doses we are using.

‘This is largely because as you get older your renal function declines and you also have drug interactions.

Pensioners are being poisoned by medication because the elderly are excluded from clinical trials, warned Sir Munir Pirmohamed (stock image)

‘Most patients I see now are on ten, 15, 20 drugs, and that means you get three, four, five-way interactions. So drug reactions are common in this group and they’re often not picked up in clinical care.

‘It’s very easy to prescribe drugs, but it’s very hard to stop drugs. When someone is taking 15 drugs it’s very difficult to decide which should be stopped.’

Sir Munir said 6.5 per cent of patients at hospitals were admitted because of drug reactions, costing the NHS £1.6billion.

The academic is a non-executive director for NHS England and professor of molecular and clinical pharmacology at Liverpool University.

Older patients are often unable to process strong pills yet can be prescribed between ten and 20 different types of medication at once (stock image)

Professor Miles Witham, of the National Institute for Health Research, called for a change in regulations to ensure drugs firms included older people and those taking several medications in their trials.

He said the elderly had been neglected because they can ‘spoil nice clean trials’.

He added: ‘In the real world people with heart failure have a common age of 85, but in clinical trials the average age is 65 and that gap is extremely common whichever disease you look at. The evidence we gain from clinical trials is actually not fit for purpose in many cases.’

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