My View, Nick Tupper, £2m wasted on unwanted medicines

A woman receiving her prescription medicine
A woman receiving her prescription medicine

How many of us feel annoyed when we have to throw away food that has passed its use-by date simply because we have bought too much or have forgotten that it’s there tucked away in our fridge?

We can all be guilty of stockpiling items we think we might need in the future or because something is a good deal or free. But I think it’s fair to say none of us like waste and it’s a particular problem for the NHS when it comes to medicines.

The Department of Health calculates unused medicines cost the NHS around £300 million each year, with an estimated £110 million worth being returned to pharmacies, £90 million worth being stored in homes and £50 million being disposed by care homes. In Doncaster we reckon that around £2 million worth of medicines are being wasted each year because some patients on repeat prescriptions are storing more than they need.

What many patients don’t realise is that even if you never open them, dispensed medicines cannot be recycled or prescribed to anyone else. They have to be destroyed.

We’re going to launch a new awareness campaign to encourage Doncaster people to ‘show the red card’ to medicines waste by telling their GP practice or pharmacist that they are being prescribed more than they need.

Are you one of those patients? Do you feel awkward about telling your GP or pharmacist you’re being prescribed more than you need because you think your prescriptions may stop as a result? That won’t happen, but I am interested in finding out why medicines build up in people’s homes so we can make it easy for them to let the NHS know when it’s becoming a problem.

By cutting out around £2 million of medicine waste in Doncaster and investing the savings in other parts of our local NHS we could afford hundreds more hip or knee replacements, more than 2,000 more cataract operations and many new nurses. It’s something we can all – patients and health professionals – work together on to stop unnecessary waste and make better use of NHS resources.

Together we can save the NHS in Doncaster up to £40,000 a week without affecting patient care.

So please:

n Only order the medication you need

n Discuss your medicine needs with your GP or pharmacist

n Take your medicines with you if you go to hospital

n Return unwanted medicines to your local pharmacy for safe disposal

Check out NHS Doncaster CCG’s facebook and twitter sites and Doncaster CCG for details of how to take part in an anonymous survey where you will be able to let us know if you have a problem with unwanted medicines and why.

* Nick Tupper, Chairman, Doncaster NHS Clinical Commissioning Group