NHS Western Isles campaign to reduce medicine waste

A campaign aimed at reducing an estimated £44 million wasted on medicines across Scotland every year has been launched today by four Local Health Boards in the North of Scotland, including NHS Western Isles.

The campaign aims to raise awareness about correctly ordering repeat prescriptions and helping people get the best from their medicines.

The potential money wasted on medicines across Scotland every year could pay for:

  • 1,724 more community nurses
  • 2,904 more drug treatment courses for breast cancer
  • 44,000 more drug treatment courses for alzheimers
  • 11,866 more hip replacements
  • 5,349 more heart bypass operations

GPs and pharmacists in NHS Western Isles, Grampian, Orkney, and Shetland have joined together in a bid to educate patients about their treatment and to help patients understand more about their medicines and the options they have.

One of the main concerns is medicines on repeat prescriptions, which are ordered and collected by patients but are not used. It is estimated that millions of pounds worth of unused prescription medicines are retained in individuals’ homes across the UK at any one time. It has also been estimated that between 40-50% of patients do not take or use their medicines as prescribed. This can occur for a number of reasons, including:

  • patients not believing the medicine is necessary
  • possible side effects
  • fitting taking or using medicines into daily routines
  • choosing between medicines if patients’ feel they are taking too many, and
  • cutting down or stopping medicines they have been taking for a long time

The campaign is supported by television advertising, with colourful campaign materials that will be displayed in pharmacies and GP practices to raise awareness of medicine waste among both patients and carers. Further information may also be found on a new national website www.medicinewastescotland.com

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is little if any mention of the environmental impact of disposal of these unwanted medicines, and of yet greater concern of the GPs and others who continue to prescribe the drugs in the first place – the whole emphasis seeks to place blame on the patient for asking for the drugs in the first place, and then not taking their medicines as prescribed without any reference to those who are so quick to dish out these unnecessary medications.

If the campaign reduces prescription medicine waste then, however that happens, there will be great value in the campaign though if there is too much criticism of patients and communities this might combine with the bullying approach to domestic waste and recyclables and actually reduce rather than increase compliance rates.

But if it works, then that is fantastic. Now is the time to consider reduction in the purchase and use of unnecessary and inappropriate OTC products, the stockpiling of these in bathroom cabinets with the ever-present risk of accidental poisoning of children, and the eventual disposal that must have a profound environmental impact from the active substance(s) and excipients.

And then, if that isn’t enough, there is need to consider the administration of pharmaceuticals to farm animals and livestock. These too have a profound but largely uncontrolled environmental impact. Many are of significant economic value, promoting growth and reducing loss in this first point of the food chain. However, disposal is often uncontrolled and the regulatory authorities do little to consider improvement in this overlooked but environmentally damaging area.

The NHS Western Isles initiative must be applauded. There is much more to do and it is only these big bites at environmental protection that will make any appreciable difference to the problem of pharmaceutical waste disposal.

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