MILLIONS of patients could benefit from social prescribing instead of popping pills, top doctors say. It comes as Britain’s reliance on medication costs the NHS £18billion a year, as rising numbers seek quick and easy fixes to increasingly complex health problems.

Dr Aseem Malhotra, NHS consultant cardiologist and president of the Public Health Collaboration, said: “The figures are truly shocking. “Over-prescribing is now one of the greatest threats to public health, with one estimate suggesting that because of side-effects, pharmaceutical drugs are the third biggest killer globally after heart disease and cancer. “It’s time to put social prescribing at the heart of every patient encounter.”

One in five GP appointments is for non-medical reasons, including relationship problems, loneliness and isolation, for which the NHS cannot help.

Experts think social prescriptions – where doctors send patients to exercise, art and meditation classes – could help many people while relieving pressure on overworked GPs.

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