Welsh Government
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Major campaign aims to save millions by reducing wasted medicines

A new campaign to reduce the amount of wasted medicines has been launched by the Welsh Assembly Government.

More than 250 tons of out of date, surplus and redundant medicines are returned each year to pharmacies and dispensing GP surgeries across Wales at an estimated cost of £50 million to the NHS. This is in addition to medicines that are probably disposed of incorrectly through household waste.

The campaign includes radio adverts and leaflets distributed by GPs surgeries and pharmacies.  Patients receiving prescription medicines will be handed advice such as ensuring they order the right amounts of medicines and do not stockpile drugs.

The Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Tony Jewell, and the NHS Chief Executive, Paul Williams will also be writing to health professionals to highlight the campaign and remind them of the importance to prescribe only what is necessary to help patients manage their condition to avoid wasted medicines.

Unwanted medicines cannot be reused or recycled and all have to be destroyed in an incinerator.  The campaign features the case of one patient who returned £2,000 worth of unwanted medicines.

Targeting GPs, pharmacists and patients, the campaign gives clear advice on how to:

  • prescribe more effectively;
  • efficiently order repeat prescriptions;
  • understand the side effects and benefits of each medicine; and,
  • safely discard old and unused medicines.

A Welsh Assembly Government report published earlier this year, showed that the abolition of prescription charges in Wales in April 2007 has not resulted in a rise in the number of medicines prescribed. This was backed by an independent report by Cardiff University, Bangor University and University of Glamorgan.

Health Minister Edwina Hart said:

“Millions of pounds worth of waste medicines are being burnt every year. This is money that could be better spent elsewhere in the NHS.

“Not only is there a significant cost associated with wasted medicines, if people have out-of-date medicines, they are risking their health.

“If we all adhere to the clear and simple guidelines in this campaign and patients only order what they need, and GPs prescribe effectively, the safety and benefits of such medicine management will be felt directly by all in Wales. We all have a duty to play our part in reducing the amount of unnecessary prescribing of medicines. This will ensure that the NHS is able to spend its money in the most effective way.”

Chris Martin, a pharmacist and chair of Hywel Dda Health Board, led a group looking at the use of medicines in Wales and recommended the development of a campaign to highlight wasted medicines.

He said:

“We looked at how we could roll out a national scheme based on the pilot work that was successfully undertaken in the Hywel Dda area last year. I am looking forward to the co-operation of my pharmacist colleagues who can really make a difference to help and support people in taking their medication correctly. This will be a collaboration between the professionals and the public, working together to reduce waste in Wales.”

Chairman of GP Committee Wales, Dr David Bailey, said:

"We support this campaign and the advice to patients.

“GPs will always have regard to the cost of medicines and the amounts prescribed, although our first concern will always be the best interests of the individual patient."

Mr Russell Goodway, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy Wales, added:

"Community Pharmacy Wales is pleased to support the Assembly Government in attacking unnecessary NHS overspend on medicines.

"Community Pharmacists deal with waste medicines on a daily basis and are specifically qualified and well placed to help tackle the problem. Patients who are not sure if they need to take all the medicines they have at home can ask their local community pharmacy for a free Medicines Check Up.

"It is not safe to keep medicines at home that are not going to be used or are no longer needed. People should bring any such surplus medicines to their local community pharmacy for safe disposal."

Related Links

Leaflets and posters - Wasting medicines wastes money!

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