Health secretary Matt Hancock has ordered a review of patients who take multiple medicines, to ensure they are receiving the most appropriate treatment for their needs, and avoid needless overprescribing.

The review aims to tackle ‘problematic polypharmacy’ – when a patient is taking multiple medicines unnecessarily – in a bid to cut back on waste within the NHS medicines bill in England, which has grown from £13 billion in 2010 to 2011 to £18.2 billion in 2017 to 2018.

Health Survey England 2016 found that nearly half of over 75-year-olds surveyed were taking five or more medicines, with this percentage rising the older people get.

While in the majority of cases patients will be receiving multiple drugs due to specific or complex needs, the review will look at how to ensure treatment remains up to date and appropriate so patients feel as well as possible, said the Department of Health and Social Care.

Chief pharmaceutical officer Dr Keith Ridge will lead the review, which will look at encouraging pharmacists and GPs to better manage patients on repeat prescriptions and creating a more efficient handover process between primary and secondary care.

It will also assess the role of digital technologies in reducing overprescribing, as well as an increased role for other forms of care, including social prescribing.

Announcing the review, health secretary Matt Hancock said: “As we invest an extra £20.5bn a year into our NHS, we want to empower doctors and pharmacists to use the data available to ensure patients get the medicines they need and stop taking those that no longer benefit them.

“We also need to back our GPs to move towards alternatives such as social prescribing, so we can offer more tailored healthcare that focuses on prevention.”

The review will also look into the role of digital technologies in reducing overprescribing, just weeks after the news that NHS Digital has launched a pilot that could see more than 95% of GP prescriptions processed electronically, while Roche revealed that 82% of Generation Z want to see the NHS introduce digital solutions to better manage their health and improve care.