Drug policies should focus on compliance, not waste

Drug wastage is not a major problem in the NHS and policies should try to ensure people take drugs correctly, even if this increases overall spend, according to a report published this week.

Research by the York Health Economics Consortium and the University of London’s School of Pharmacy showed that medicines waste in the NHS in England cost £300m in 2009.

This includes £90m of unused medicines stored in homes, £110m returned to pharmacies, and up to £50m worth of medicines disposed of annually by care homes.

The research findings did not indicate that the English NHS faced a greater risk of wasting medicines compared with other health services.

The study also suggested that introducing more extensive prescription charges, as has sometimes been proposed to reduce costs, would not cut drug waste. It may, in fact, discourage effective use of medicines by reducing compliance, the research found.

The researchers believe that only around half of this waste is preventable. Much of the waste is not caused by failures by individual clinicians or patients. Instead it is a result of treatment needing to be changed, for instance because an illness has progress.

Report co-author Professor Paul Trueman said many health professionals and members of the public believe that the physical waste of NHS drugs is a major issue.

‘We should do everything we can cost effectively to reduce it,’ he commented. ‘But we have not found that the NHS has a systemic problem with drug wastage which marks it out from other health services.

‘In value terms there is more to be gained from helping people to take their medicines more effectively, even though this may increase the overall volume of drugs paid for.’

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