Pills worth £4m go to waste

PUBLISHED: 09:02 09 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:59 22 October 2010


Patients have been urged not to order unnecessary tablets on repeat prescriptions as it emerged that nearly £4m worth of medication went to waste in Norfolk alone last year.

Patients have been urged not to order unnecessary tablets on repeat prescriptions as it emerged that nearly £4m worth of medication went to waste in Norfolk alone last year.

Health chiefs revealed that every month patients return substantial quantities of unused prescription drugs - which cannot be used again - to pharmacies.

Figures released earlier this week revealed that the NHS plunged £512m into the red last year, with the health services in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire chalking up a £100m financial deficit - 20pc of the total.

The value of unused drugs in Norfolk - £3.9m - would have been enough to wipe out last year's deficits at both Norwich and Yarmouth primary care trusts which commission care from GPs, community nurses and hospitals.

Further evidence of waste within the health service came as the East Anglian Ambulance Trust said unnecessary calls on paramedics' time cost the service roughly £100 a time - and that there were “several thousand” such calls each year.

Richard Bacon, Tory MP for South Norfolk and a member of the powerful Commons public accounts committee, said: “One of my colleagues recently carried out a survey of health trusts around the country to try to find out the cost of cancelled medical appointments.

“The conclusion he came to was that the total cost was in the order of £500m-£600m - the size of the national NHS deficit.

“You can make a huge difference if you manage things well with what you've got.”

Mr Bacon added: “There aren't infinite resources, but potentially there's infinite demand for health care. That means you have to maximise the impact you can have on patients with every pound available.”

Ian Small, head of prescribing at Norwich Primary Care Trust, said it was inevitable some prescribed drugs would go unused - after the death of a terminally-ill patient, for example.

But he said patients on repeat prescriptions could help reduce waste by ordering only what medication they needed - when they needed it.

“Pharmacies in all parts of the country are encouraged to accept returns of prescription drugs that patients haven't used, so that people don't end up putting them in the bin or flushing them down the toilet,” he said.

“Every three months, those returned drugs are collected from pharmacies. Based on the weight collected - which is only a crude measure - the cost of those return drugs in Norfolk each year is £3.9m.

“We'd really encourage patients using repeat prescriptions or ordering drugs 'as required' - such as painkilling drugs - to order only the amount they need.”

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, said a project was under way in his constituency to avoid “unnecessary prescriptions”.

“We all want the convenience of repeat prescriptions - and I'd not want to change that,” he said. “But repeat prescriptions do require active management. If it's not actively managed, waste inevitably occurs.”

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