Health matters

Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.
Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.

AS part of our series of ongoing health columns, Julie Hirst, public health specialist for NHS Derbyshire County, including Buxton and the High Peak, talks about the cost of wasted medicines.

Did you know that millions of NHS pounds are being wasted on unused medicines in Derbyshire every year? It is a fact that the cost to the local NHS on prescriptions that are ordered but end up being stockpiled in patients’ cabinets is £6 million in Derbyshire.

It is important that we all think carefully before we re-order medicines, as once they are dispensed by chemists or GPs they can’t be reused.

Wasted medicines means wasted money. The average prescription medicine costs at least £10, and that’s money that could be better spent on healthcare.

It may be the case that we may not need all the medicines we are habitually ordering. Some patients simply get into the habit of reordering medicines and drugs, but their health might benefit if they dropped into their local pharmacy and asked for a free, qualified, Medicines Use Review.

Any unwanted medicines should be handed back to a pharmacist or dispensing GP practice for their safe disposal as they could be an environmental hazard. They may also pose a risk to others if left in the home, especially children, who might find them and take them. Others may get confused and take old medication unwittingly.

Sometimes patients receive medicines they don’t actually use, or use only occasionally. This means that they can lose out on the intended health benefits of their prescription. And that can be a major headache in more ways than one...

Not only does it mean that that their symptoms can get much worse if left untreated - the latest Department of Health report suggests this can cost the NHS many, many millions in avoidable extra treatment costs - it also means that these medicines cannot be used again and need to be incinerated.

The reasons why patients don’t take all their medication can vary and audits have shown that around half of all the medication returned had not even been opened. This means that patients are ordering and receiving medication that they don’t even start to use.

It is estimated that as much as £300 million nationally is wasted every year on unused or partially used medication. That’s money which could be reinvested into more front line care and services for the benefit of all.

To put this into context, here’s what £300 million could buy:

80,906 MORE hip replacements

101,351 MORE knee replacements

19,799 MORE drug treatment courses for breast cancer

11,778 MORE community nurses

300,000 MORE drug treatment courses for Alzheimer’s.

Unwanted drugs in the home may mean that patients are not getting the benefit they could be from their medicines. It also represents a large amount of waste. So let’s all think about the medicine we are ordering and only ask for what we need.

Visit for more information.