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Norfolk's millions of pounds in wasted drugs

PUBLISHED: 07:02 20 October 2009 | UPDATED: 10:02 13 July 2010

Rob Garratt

NHS Norfolk throws away more than £5m worth of unused drugs every year, it has been revealed.

Mountains of drugs are binned because of laws that insist they are destroyed rather than prescribed to other sick people.

NHS Norfolk throws away more than £5m worth of unused drugs every year, it has been revealed.

Mountains of drugs are binned because of laws that insist they are destroyed rather than prescribed to other sick people.

Health bosses say they could complete an extra 1,000 hip replacements every year if they were not forced to ditch the wasted medication.

The bulk of the drugs come from people using repeat prescriptions to re-order drugs they do not need, which have to be destroyed when returned to pharmacies rather than “recycled”.

The £5m is a significant 4pc chunk of NHS Norfolk's annual £118m drugs bill, and means £1 in every £23 spent on medication is binned.

And these figures represent just the unused drugs that are returned to the trust, when far more medication is believed to be disposed of by patients at home.

Ian Small, Norfolk PCT's deputy head of prescribing, said: “It is an astonishingly high sum of money to literally be throwing away, which could otherwise be redirected to boost vital healthcare services in Norfolk.

“Particularly at this time of economic instability, we all want to make every single pound count - but this is a big drain on resources which could easily be avoided if patients only ordered what they actually needed.”

Doctors and health chiefs are calling on the public to put a stop to the wastage and not to order medication they don't need.

They say the wasted cash could be used finance 700 heart by-pass operations, 900 knee replacements, 150 more community nurses or 7,000 cataract operations.

Mr Small added: “The £5m figure is just part of the full wastage costs - as it only represents medicines handed back to pharmacists and GP practices, but not those taken back to hospital units for disposal or thrown away at home. It also does not include the cost to the NHS of having to dispose of these medicines properly.”

NHS Norfolk is pushing home the importance of not wasting medication with thousands of posters and leaflets to highlight the issue, which have been put on display at GP surgeries and pharmacies across the county.

The ditched drugs are blamed on people who stockpile medicine because they are scared of running out, and friends relatives who tick all the boxes on a repeat prescription form because they do not know what is needed.

Other patients deliberately request drugs they will not use to trick their GP into thinking they are taking the medication.

Wastage is highest with preventive medicines, such as those for high blood pressure, osteoporosis and asthma inhalers, while pain killers and drugs for depression also frequently find themselves binned.

NHS Norfolk is also warning that hoarding drugs can also be a danger to patients.

Cathal Daly, a local pharmacist and member of NHS Norfolk's Clinical Executive, said: “People also need to be aware that having a stock of old medicine can potentially be dangerous if they use old medicine after the expiration date.

“Some drugs can either become ineffective at doing what they are supposed to or may become harmful once they expire, leading to unexpected and potentially harmful results.”


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