A local campaign to reduce prescriptions as part of a drive for sustainability has seen up to a 16% drop in requests for prescriptions.

In February, Dorset integrated care board (ICB) launched the campaign to ‘only order what you need’ to address patients’ beliefs that they had to reorder all their medicines every time they got a prescription.

Through this, they targeted patients with repeat prescriptions to only order what they needed at that time, rather than everything on the script. This typically included patients on chronic pain medication, diabetes drugs and high cholesterol patients, which tended to be those over 55 years of age.

As a result of the two-month campaign, there was a 2% drop in prescription requests across the whole ICB, and up to 16% for the ‘most engaged’ practices which were ‘scattered’ across the county. The ICB had previously expected a growth in prescription requests of almost 50,000 items, due to the local trend of 2.3% growth compared to the previous year, however due to the campaign the number decreased by almost 16,000.

Through not collecting these repeat medications, the ICB estimated that around £555, 091 was avoided in prescription costs, and 344,712 kg of carbon emissions (CO2e).

The ICB invested £10k in the campaign and put together a pack of communications, including posters, social media, text messages, and smart radio advertising for postcodes with issues around over ordering.

Tracy Lyons, medicines sustainability lead at NHS Dorset said the practices who saw the most success were those that ‘took everything available to them’ in terms of communications materials. Practices who used direct messaging in particular saw upwards of 4% reductions in repeat prescribing volume.

She added that the breadth of the campaign across the ICB helped to engage patients. The radio campaign reached almost 13,000 people, with 80,000 impressions over a four week period.

‘The difference we found was getting so many teams, cross speciality, cross profession, involved so there was this multilayered approach,’ she said. ‘It was almost like a saturation effect for messaging.’

The campaign originated from the desire to reduce waste in the system.

‘It was based on the national overprescribing report which said that 10% of primary care medicines weren’t needed,’ said Ms Lyons. ‘Like every other system, we wanted to make our drugs budget go as far as possible. We thought if this is how much we’re wasting, that’s an incredible amount of money.

‘We took the principles of sustainable healthcare and thought what can we do with those. These are that if you want to make any system more sustainable environmentally, you prevent the need for it in the first place, you cut waste, you empower patients and you use low carbon products or technologies.’

The ICB has plans to relaunch the campaign either later this year or next year.

‘We want it to become ingrained knowledge within our population that you can just skip a month if you’ve already got a big supply at home,’ said Ms Lyons.

A tool that calculates the carbon footprint of medicines was recently launched after being awarded £730,000 in funding through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI).

This article first appeared on our sister title Healthcare Leader.