Valium prescriptions given to hundreds of people across England with drug and alcohol dependencies are to be reviewed after an investigation.
A report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found healthcare company Change Grow Live (CGL), on behalf of Cambridgeshire County Council, had been prescribing benzodiazepines to people long term.
This was not in line with national guidance or CGL’s own prescription policy.
Benzodiazepines are a class of medicine used to relieve nervousness, tension and other symptoms of anxiety, and are generally prescribed short term.
Included in the group is diazepam – also known as Valium – which the NHS recommends should not be used for longer than four weeks.
If the prescription runs for too long, significant negative effects can occur including dependence, withdrawal symptoms and drug-seeking behaviour.
The watchdog said people on these medicines should have their prescriptions reviewed regularly alongside an up-to-date management plan.
But the ombudsman’s investigation found CGL was either not reviewing people’s prescriptions regularly enough or not keeping proper records of reviews.
It recommended the county council take action within three months and ensure CGL reviews its policy and improves its record keeping.
CGL has 343 clients on long-term prescriptions, and provides drug and alcohol services for 50 other councils in the UK.
Nigel Ellis, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman chief executive, said: “Clinicians need to weigh up the benefits and risks for patients who are taking these medicines long term and should have a clear rationale for continuing to prescribe.
“I am pleased that patients in these vulnerable groups will now have their cases reviewed more regularly and comprehensively following my investigation.
“Both CGL and the council have co-operated fully with our investigation, and I welcome their ready acceptance of our recommendations.”
CGL is compiling a national clinical audit of benzodiazepine prescriptions.
The ombudsman looks at individual complaints about local public services and all registerable social care providers throughout England, and investigates more than 11,000 cases every year.