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Planning Retirement Online

Don't waste your medication

December 2016

pill packets

News has come in this week that the major drugs company Pfizer has been fined for overcharging the NHS for an anti-epilepsy drug.

The amount it is said they overcharged was £84 million which of course is appalling. But in fact it pales into insignificance when you look at the amount of medicines we throw away or waste every year.

It has been estimated that unused medicines costs the NHS over £300 million every year.  That is a staggering amount and could be put to much better use. Every pill, every medicine that you collect on prescription from the doctors or the chemist,  costs a great deal of money.  Many of course have to make a contribution to buy prescribed medicines, but a lot of people also get them totally free. But whether we pay or have concessions, there is a big underlying cost factor in every pill and every drug.  Wasting just one tablet costs someone money somewhere…and it is usually the NHS that has to pick up the bill.

One big area of waste is when people stop taking a medicine. Sometimes a regular prescription continues because we have been slack in letting the chemist or doctor know; sometimes we simply order a full repeat for all prescriptions when really we don’t need every one.

Another area is when people drop in prescriptions and then never pick them up. That might sound strange but evidently it accounts for a lot of waste as generally the medication can’t be recycled for someone else.  Perhaps the person may have got better on their own account, or they have changed their mind about taking the medication, but either way it means more unnecessary cost to the NHS.

Storing up a stock of medicines for the future is not a good idea. If you are on a regular prescription, it can be easy to think getting ahead with the orders is a good plan. But while no one wants to run out, prescriptions and circumstances can change and again this can lead to waste. Medicines, like food, can also change and deteriorate over time.

The NHS advises everyone to make sure they take all their medication when they are going into hospital.  Some think that the hospital will provide the required medication, and of course it will, but why waste the medicine you already have. When you get back it might be out of date or your prescription may have been changed slightly.

Safety of wasted medicines is another issue here as any tablets or medicine left around could prove a danger to someone else; perhaps picking it up in error for their own medication or grandchildren getting hold of it and so on.

A group called Medicine Waste UK, set up to help reduce medical waste, has set out a few ideas to help:

  • If you stop taking any of your medicines, let your GP and pharmacist know as soon as possible.
  • Discuss your medication with your GP or pharmacist on a regular basis.
  • Before re-ordering any medicines, carefully check whether you still have some at home.
  • If you don’t need the medicine, don’t order it! You can always order it later if necessary.
  • Think carefully when completing a repeat prescription form and only tick those you really need.
  • If you go into hospital, remember to take all your medicines with you in a clearly marked bag. (More useful advice on keeping track of your medicines here.)
  • Remember: it’s not safe to share prescription medicines with anyone else.
  • Always return out of date medicines to your pharmacy or dispensary for safe disposal.
  • If your medicines change, return your old medicines to the pharmacy for safe disposal to avoid confusion with any new medicines.
  • Don’t stockpile medication – it’s not safe and they can easily become out of date and therefore unusable.
  • Always store medicines in an appropriate place, out of reach of children.


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