COMMENT: Unused medicines cost the NHS £40,000 a week in Doncaster

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Prescription medicines are one of the biggest costs to the NHS, so it’s crucial we look for ways to avoid waste, as small percentage savings enable millions of pounds to be re-invested in other areas of healthcare.

In 2013, the cost of providing prescription medicines in England was over £15 billion. During the year, over one billion prescription items were dispensed at pharmacies – an average of 2.7 million items every day. On average, 18.7 prescription items were dispensed for every person living in the country.

The Department of Health reckons unused medicines cost the NHS around £300 million a year in England and we think Doncaster’s share is at least £2 million.

So a few weeks ago, NHS Doncaster Clinical Commissioning Group launched an anonymous online survey to ask people about their experiences of medicine waste.

We had more than 200 responses, with just over 28 per cent telling us that they had prescription medicines that they no longer need or use.

We asked those who took part if they would feel awkward about telling their GP or pharmacist that they have more medicines than they need. Nearly 84 per cent said they wouldn’t, but just over 16 per cent said they would.

The majority of respondents said they didn’t have any problem cancelling a repeat prescription if they contacted their GP or pharmacist. But some were frustrated that nothing was done when they did try. One person wrote about his father who ‘had great stockpiles for the last few years of his life.’ His dad’s reasoning was if he told his GP he hadn’t used all his medication it would be assumed he didn’t need it. This in turn would have implications, or so he thought, on his disability living allowance.

Asked how people disposed of unwanted medicines, some replies were surprising. Some said they flushed them down the toilet, while others said they did nothing with them, leaving them in kitchen cupboards.

Clearly, it’s not safe to leave medicines lying around where they may be in reach of children or other vulnerable people. They should be disposed of safely. That means taking them to your high street pharmacy, where managed collection and disposal arrangements are in place. This is also the time to tell your pharmacist if you are starting to gather more medicines than you need.

We are going to work with Doncaster’s Local Pharmacy Committee, which represents pharmacies in the borough, to see how we can cut the waste. Our goal with the campaign is to prevent £40,000 of medicine waste in Doncaster every week. If we can get patients to work with us only to order what they need, any savings can be re-invested in other local health services .Which will be just the tonic for Doncaster.

Dr Nick Tupper, Chairman Doncaster NHS Clinical Commissioning Group