Medicines waste: We should focus on prevention rather than cure

By Neal Patel, Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Head of Corporate Communications

Throwing away medicines rather than using them as intended is a huge problem.

At time when the NHS is having to find £20 billion pounds worth of savings it’s absolutely right that we should all focus on areas on efficiency which feel like (financial) gain with very little, (service loss) pain.

The York Health Economics Consortium, and The School of Pharmacy, University of London, founds that in England in 2009 NHS primary and community care prescription medicines waste cost £300 million.

That is a lot of hip operations.

Proposals in recent weeks have focused on recycling the drugs that people don’t use or maybe putting the headline price on packs on packs of medicines to give “free” prescription medicines a value.

Pricing up the drugs you get from a pharmacist is novel but it’s worth remembering that research tells us that much of medicines waste is not caused by failures on the part of either patients or professionals, but by factors such as illnesses progressing and treatment changes being required.

Recycling is laudable idea and it does happen elsewhere but I think it is still too early to know the overall impact these programs will have.  I would be interested to see what we could do in the UK but let’s not forget that we want the supply chain to be secure. Opening up the network to recycling drugs needs to be thought through as currently a lot of time and effort is being spent on ensuring we don’t allow counterfeit drugs into the supply chain.

But in cash strapped times it’s probably better to look at where we will get the best return on investment. We believe we should follow the evidence that shows by helping people to take their medicines more effectively you would find that up to £500 million of extra value could be generated in just five therapeutic areas: asthma, diabetes, raised blood pressure, vascular disease and the care of people with schizophrenia. Preventing waste in the first place rather than trying to find an alternative way of dealing with the drugs that are being thrown away may provide a more effective strategy.