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Unused drugs 'cost NHS millions'

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Millions of pounds of NHS money is wasted on unused medicines which are “stockpiled” in people’s homes, nurses have said.

Black bin liners full of unopened boxes have been found while medicines are also thrown down the toilet or put in the bin.

Nurses attending the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) conference in Liverpool voted overwhelmingly in favour of calling for action to stop medicines being repeatedly ordered on prescription that are never taken.

It comes as RCN chief executive, Dr Peter Carter, called on the Government to take action over proposed job cuts and instead look at other ways of saving the NHS money.

Community nurse Christine Thomas, from Swansea in Wales, proposed the motion calling for action and said millions could be saved if people followed simple instructions.

A leaflet could be posted to “every household in the UK” telling patients not to order drugs they do not need.

They could also be warned off stockpiling medicines, which can quickly go out of date or be mistakenly taken by children.

She added: “Why do people order things like aspirin when you can order 100 for less than £1, paracetamol at three packs for £1 or ibuprofen at two packs for £1?

“Would people still ask for them if they had to pay?”

Last November, a report commissioned by the Department of Health found that unused prescription medicines was costing the NHS at least £300 million a year in England, although this was likely to be an underestimate.

It found around half the waste associated with drugs that were prescribed but never taken was preventable.

The figure included an estimated £90 million worth of unused prescription medicines retained in people’s homes at any one time, £110 million returned to community pharmacies over the course of a year, and £50 million worth of NHS medicines disposed of unused by care homes.

In February, a National Audit Office (NAO) report found hospitals are wasting around £500 million a year due to wide variations in how they buy basic items.

Even within individual hospitals, purchasing involves buying lots of different types of the same product.

Some 61 NHS trusts bought 21 types of A4 paper, 652 types of medical gloves and 1,751 cannulas, which are used for withdrawing or inserting fluid from a patient.

Overall, 61 trusts issued more than 1,000 orders each per year for A4 paper alone.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “We are aware of these concerns and have been clear that the NHS must find ways of making savings to free up resources for frontline care.

“Reducing wasted prescriptions is a way of working more efficiently.

“Wastage of medicines in primary and community care in the NHS is not a systemic problem and the NHS is making greater efforts to reduce the amount of medicines wasted than ever before.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • A system needs to be considered for being able to reissue unused/unopened drugs and dressings, it is a shameful waste of resources, money is literally being poured down the drain. A stop to this needless waste must be found before the NHS goes under.

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