£8m a year wasted on unused medicines
By Ted JeoryMORE than £8million a year is being wasted on prescription medicines that are dispensed, but never used.Health bosses in Essex have now appealed to patients to help tackle the urgent problem caused largely by people not thinking carefully before ordering repeat prescriptions.
By Ted Jeory
MORE than £8million a year is being wasted on prescription medicines that are dispensed, but never used.
Health bosses in Essex have now appealed to patients to help tackle the urgent problem caused largely by people not thinking carefully before ordering repeat prescriptions.
The extent of the problem came to light after one of the region's largest care trusts conducted a survey to see how many prescribed drugs were being returned to pharmacies.
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Six community pharmacies in the Tendring area were monitored during an eight-week exercise devised by Paul Breame, Tendring Primary Care Trust's prescribing manager.
The value of the drugs returned by patients was calculated and multiplied by the number of community pharmacies throughout the area, giving a figure of £928,000.
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Using a generally-accepted convention, Mr Breame then doubled that to take account of returns to GP practices and drugs simply thrown away, as well as including the cost of legally having to destroy returned medicines, even if bottle seals are intact.
The £2m thought to be wasted in the Tendring district represents about 10% of the trust's annual prescribing budget - in line with the national picture, according to Mr Breame.
But with the total prescribing budget for primary care trusts in Colchester, Chelmsford, Maldon and South Chelmsford and Witham, Braintree and Halstead about £60m, another £6m a year could be wasted.
Acknowledging part of the problem may lie with some GPs who over-prescribe, Mr Breame said patients also had to share blame.
“Waste can't be totally eliminated, but it can be reduced. We're producing leaflets explaining to people what to think about when ordering repeat prescriptions,” he added.
“For example, don't tick all the boxes on forms unless you need them. If you don't need it, don't order it.”
Margaret Cutler, prescribing adviser at Maldon and South Chelmsford Primary Care Trust, said the situation was “galling”.
She added: “I've known people who hoard up to three months' worth of drugs - they just feel they will run out otherwise.
“We're trying to get the message through by notices on parish noticeboards and magazines, but it's a real problem.”