Savings can help front-line services, say CCGs
Unused prescription medicines are costing the NHS in the East Berkshire area up to £1.8m every year – and now local patients are being urged to help their doctors, nurses and pharmacists to cut down on this expensive waste.
NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Slough, Windsor, Ascot & Maidenhead and Bracknell & Ascot say that even small changes can make a big difference – with the savings available for investment into more care and front-line services.
Tim Langran, CCG Lead Pharmacist, explained: “The vast majority of people don’t wilfully waste their medicines. There are many reasons why patients end up with too many stacked in their bathroom cabinet – perhaps they have forgotten to take them, have given up because they feel well again, have had side-effects or genuinely don’t understand the benefits of the medication they have been prescribed.
“It is important for your doctor, nurse and pharmacist to know if you stop taking a medication – not just to prevent waste, but also so that they can safely treat you in future and so they can give you all the information you need to make the right decision for you about your treatment. They may be able to advise on lifestyle changes you could try instead of medication or find a different medication that suits you better. They would like to know about any medicines that you are no longer taking to make sure that you are getting the best out of your care.
“That’s why it’s essential to have good, open communications between healthcare professionals and patients, and if patients don’t understand about their medicines they should not hesitate to ask.”
It is estimated that waste prescription medicines cost each of the three local CCGs between £550,000 and £600,000 a year – money that could be spent on much-needed services such as more than 4,000 cataract operations, over 300 drug treatments for breast cancer and around 600 heart operations.
Overall, wasted medicines cost the NHS more than £300m a year.
Tim added: “Wasting medicines is like pouring money down the drain – and we all have a responsibility to make even small changes so that valuable savings can be used for more of the front-line services needed across our community.
“Understandably, some people can be confused by what they should be taking and when – and just give up. We need to make sure that everyone understands fully what their prescription medicines are for and how and when to take them.”
There are many reasons for prescription medicines being wasted but the most common are:
- patients get better
- side effects mean a different medicine is needed
- patients go into hospital but continue to get medications delivered to their home
- the ‘repeat prescription’ process fails, e.g. a new supply is ordered when it is not needed
- patients don’t take the right amounts
- medicines have a short shelf life
- patients don’t like to ‘upset’ their doctor by revealing they don’t take their medicines for a variety of reasons
Around 50% of medicine waste is preventable and patients can make a difference by:
- only ordering the medicines they need
- always following the advice on the label
- letting their GP or pharmacist know if they no longer take the prescribed medicine
- helping older family members or friends to order and take the correct doses of their medicines
- checking all dispensed prescriptions before leaving the pharmacy – even unopened medicines cannot be reused once they have left the premises
NHS professionals are helping to cut prescription medication waste by ensuring that they are:
- giving patients clear and simple information about how and when to take their medicine
- making sure patients know how to order repeat prescriptions
- arranging blister packs/dosettes if appropriate
All unused medicines should be returned to a pharmacy for safe disposal – they should never be flushed down the toilet or thrown in the household rubbish bin.