Page last updated at 23:21 GMT, Thursday, 16 October 2008 00:21 UK

Unused drugs costing NHS millions

By Eleanor Bradford
Health correspondent, BBC Scotland

Dr Douglas believes unused drugs should be offered to patients for free

As much as 1 worth of every 20 spent on prescription drugs is never used by patients, according to the NHS.

A Scottish GP has called for a recycling scheme to stop hundreds of millions of pounds worth of unused drugs going to waste.

Some unused drugs are returned to pharmacists and incinerated, others are just binned by patients.

Dr James Douglas wants unopened medicines to be offered to patients who need them for free.

Drugs are often thrown away because clinicians over-prescribe or because patients fail to take their medicines.

Highlight waste

Dr Douglas, who practices in Fort William, has suggested labelling unused drugs with a green sticker to identify them.

He said: "I think a recycling scheme would help everybody.

"It would help the health service because we would be winning on drug budgets, it would help the whole green recycling agenda in Scotland.

"It would also help the individual patient who perhaps would be getting a medicine that they were having trouble affording in the current economic climate."


Pharmacist David Gill shows how 1,000 of unused drugs were returned by just one patient

Over recent months some of Scotland's biggest health boards have held press conferences to highlight the waste of unused medicines.

The biggest, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, estimated unused drugs cost it 24m every year.

NHS Lothian estimated the cost at 3m per year.

The combined totals would pay for an extra 3,500 heart by-pass operations.

No-one knows how much is wasted in Scotland as a whole but the bill for the UK is estimated at 100m.

However some pharmacists have raised safety issues and said a recycling scheme would not work.

Len McAllister, a community pharmacist in Carnoustie, said: "Legislation would have to be changed to allow pharmacists to take medicines back in again.

"That could be done but then the manufacturers would be very unhappy."

He added: "Drugs might have been sitting in a damp cellar or near a hot radiator and of course the manufacturer is then liable for the problems that could happen."

Patient partnership

The family of a dead Tayside patient recently returned more than a thousand pounds worth of unused medicines to the NHS.

The patient had been ordering repeat prescriptions for up to four years, without using the drugs.

David Gill, head of pharmacy at Angus Community Health Partnership, said: "Unfortunately it is quite common to find six, seven, eight months supply of asthma inhalers, for instance, in a cupboard.

"Patients seem to keep accumulating medicines for a rainy day."

But Mr Gill believed a new contract for pharmacists, currently being drawn up, should help.

He said: "Once the Chronic Medications Service is in place, hopefully in 2009, that will increase the partnership between the patient, the pharmacist and the GP and will allow pharmacists to become far more involved in managing a patients needs on a monthly basis."

Revised guidance for top-up drugs
01 Oct 08 |  Scotland
Drug firm settles NHS price claim
04 Mar 08 |  Scotland
NHS medicine cost control urged
28 Jul 05 |  Scotland

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