Medicines waste: how much and is it preventable?

What is the real cost of wasted medicines – and how much could be done to prevent this wastage? Well, according to a report published late last year, the gross annual cost of NHS primary and community care prescription medicines wastage in England is now about £300 million. Much of this, however, is neither avoidable nor the result of poor practice, with the study estimating that less than 50% (probably 30-50%) is likely to be preventable in a cost-effective way.

The report, ‘Evaluation of the scale, causes and costs of waste medicines’ (see here), by the York Health Economics Consortium, University of York, and the School of Pharmacy, University of London, and commissioned by the Department of Health, also says that medicines waste within primary and community care in the English NHS, “should not be regarded as a serious systemic problem”.

The report identifies some of the causes of medicines waste, highlights the need to emphasise health outcomes rather than medicines waste per se, and identifies some strategies for waste reduction. The authors call for a degree of realism, however, in looking for further improvements, taking into account how much has been achieved already, and at the complex causes of continuing waste, and conclude that: “It is when reducing medicines waste also directly and effectively contributes to the fundamental task of improving care quality and health outcomes that the greatest returns are to be gained.”