Medicines management

How can we stop medicines from being wasted?

A huge amount of medicines are wasted every year in the UK, at an estimated cost of around £300 million.

This is due in part to poor adherence to treatment, with around 50% of patients with long-term conditions not taking medicines as they are prescribed. Reasons for non-adherence include side effects, memory problems, or even the taste. This can lead to stockpiling of medicines in the home.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has proposed labelling the cost of medicines worth more than £20 on prescriptions, marking them ‘funded by taxpayers’. This may look like a good idea – educating people about the costs of medicines may lead some to be more careful – but this proposal may have unintended consequences.

Some of the older generation, for example, who are used to being thrifty, might think that they should not be taking expensive medicines and that they are a burden on the health system.

It is vital for nurses to undertake regular medicine reviews with patients. This is when the medication regime can be discussed and nurses can determine which medicines, if any, are not being taken and why. Solutions can then be explored, such as providing dosette boxes, other products or formulations, and regimes that better suit the patient’s lifestyle. Some medicines may be formally ceased during this process, and the nurse must document where patients wish to do this.

Medicine wastage costs the NHS a great deal of money. But talking to patients to discover why they are not taking medications as prescribed is a better way forward than intimidating them into compliance by printing the cost of medicines on prescriptions.

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