Scots are wasting more than £500,000 a year on prescription meds they don’t use

According to reports received through freedom of information, Scottish people are wasting around half a million pounds of NHS funds per year. That £500,000 is spent in collecting and destroying unused prescription medicine – medicine that patients don’t need or just don’t take. The costs are incurred in part from pick up of unused medicines returned to pharmacies, partly in the incineration that’s required to destroy them.

The waste, according to the health spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, MSP Jim Hume, is “colossal” and the figures obtained from the FOL (freedom of information) questionnaires sent to 14 health boards throughout the country are only “the tip of the iceberg”. They don’t even take into account the unused medicines that are just thrown away rather than returned to pharmacies for pick up.

Mr. Hume also noted that NHS staff can take proactive measures to reduce this type of waste by frequently reviewing patients’ medications to make sure that what they are getting is the most appropriate for the patient’s needs and that it is not being over-prescribed. Patients, he said, can help by not refilling prescriptions they don’t need.

In the larger population centres, the health board for Greater Glasgow and Clyde revealed that as much as 180,000 litres of unused prescription medicines had been returned to pharmacies, with an estimated cost of around £120,000 to dispose of them. Other centres reported a proportionate amount of wasted medicines; again the figures don’t reflect unused medicines that were never returned.

Mr. Hume suggested that as many as 50% of patients waste some or all of their prescription medicines.

Several reasons for the waste include cessation of symptoms, ie, the patients feel well before they’ve taken all of the medicine, or they feel the medicine isn’t working, or they believe it’s causing side effects. It is important that GP’s and patients be aware of the costs being incurred, and studies are ongoing as to the most effective ways to reduce them.