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Deprescribing: Reducing or stopping unnecessary medicines improves health outcomes


Deprescribing is stopping or reducing medicines that are:

  • Not helping your condition, or possibly harming you.
  • No longer the best treatment for you or your condition.

All GP practices in Northern Ireland are being asked to consider deprescribing unnecessary, inappropriate or potentially harmful medicines.

The goal of deprescribing is to maintain or improve your quality of life.

Deprescribing should only be done by your GP, pharmacist or a nurse.

It is a planned process and some medicines need to be stopped slowly, over time. It is important to follow instructions and not stop any medicines without first talking to your GP, pharmacist or nurse.

For more information, download the Deprescribing Factsheet or read the Frequently Asked Questions

Medicines use is a fine balance

Medicines can help us in many different ways. But medicines can also cause us harm. That’s why it’s important to weigh up the potential benefits and harms of taking a medicine.

Taking more medicines than we need, or taking too many medicines together, can sometimes cause more harm than good and can result in:

  • falls and fractures
  • hospital admissions
  • confusion and memory problems
  • car accidents
  • premature loss of independence


Frequently Asked Questions about Deprescribing

Why is my GP no longer prescribing this item for me?

The Department of Health is working with local GPs and Community Pharmacists to focus on how medicines and appliances are prescribed.

This may mean that some of your medicines will be deprescribed, which means your medicines being stopped, changed or the amount you take reduced.

This will happen after there has been a review and assessment that the medicine is either no longer needed, is ineffective, inappropriate or unsafe for that patient. Your GP knows your condition best and will decide based on your clinical need.

Why has my GP changed my prescription? I don’t recognise the brand of this item.

Current health policy in Northern Ireland is that generic medicines should be prescribed in all appropriate circumstances.

A generic medicine is the same as a brand-name medicine in dosage, safety, effectiveness, strength, stability, and quality, as well as in the way it is taken and the way it should be used.

Generic medicines use the same active ingredients as brand-name medicines and work the same way, and provides the same clinical benefit as the brand-name medicine.

Generic medicines must comply with exactly the same standards of quality, safety and efficacy as all medicinal products.

If for any other reason you do not recognise your medicine, patients are encouraged to ‘Know Check Ask’:

  • KNOW your medicines and keep an up-to-date list;
  • CHECK that you are using your medicines in the right way;
  • ASK your healthcare professional if you’re not sure.
I need these vitamins / infant formula. I am on a low income and can’t afford to buy it.

There are several schemes to help families on low income:

  • Sure Start programmes support parents with children aged under four years old, living in disadvantaged areas in Northern Ireland. The programme can help a parent from pregnancy until their child starts school.
  • The Healthy Start Scheme provides help for eligible families and those who are pregnant to buy healthy food and milk in local shops.
  • The Healthy Start Scheme provides a pre-paid card to help eligible families and those who are pregnant to buy:
  • plain liquid cow’s milk
  • infant formula milk based on cow’s milk
  • fresh, frozen or tinned fruit and vegetables
  • fresh, dried or tinned pulses in local shops (such as beans, peas, or lentils)

You can also use your card to request free Healthy Start vitamins which support you during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and/  or vitamin drops for babies and young children (suitable from birth to four years old).

You can find out more information about these schemes here:

Multi-vitamin prescriptions

Most people should be able to get all the vitamins and minerals they need by eating a varied and balanced diet.  Choosing foods each day that are rich in vitamins and minerals is the best way for your body to get what it needs to be healthy.

You can find out more about healthy eating here:

Infant Formula

Infant formula is no longer needed when a child is over a year old. Cow’s milk or other types of milk, if your child has an allergy, can be easily purchased in supermarkets.


My friend or family member is still getting this item. Why has my GP only stopped giving it to me?

Your GP knows your condition best and will decide based on your clinical need. If you are unclear about why you have stopped getting this item, please speak to your GP or pharmacist.