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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Unused medicines cost Northern Ireland health system £18million per year

Various pills

Every year in Northern Ireland, the public disposes of an estimated 165 tonnes of unused medicines through community pharmacies. Most of these medicines have been prescribed for patients. 

It has been previously estimated that medicines wasted in Northern Ireland are valued at £18million annually. This is further compounded by £650,000 cost to safely dispose of these unused medicines.

The Department of Health is disclosing these figures as it continues its drive to reduce the amount of money that is spent unnecessarily on prescribed medicines across health and social care.

In Northern Ireland, we use more of almost every type of medicine than in other parts of the UK and the number of prescriptions written for patients is rising each year.

The Department is working closely with health service staff including GPs and Community Pharmacists to focus on how medicines and appliances are prescribed.

For individual patients, this may mean some prescriptions for medicines could be stopped, changed or the amount reduced if it has been assessed that the medicine is either no longer needed, is ineffective, inappropriate or unsafe for that patient. These changes will only be made after an assessment of the patient by their healthcare professional, and where it is in their best interests to deprescribe.

Additionally, patients are being urged to only order the medicines that they need and use and not to ‘stockpile’.

Chief Pharmaceutical Officer at the Department of Health, Professor Cathy Harrison said:

“Medicines waste occurs for many reasons but sometimes patients receive or order medicines they don't actually need or use, or use only occasionally.

“Reducing this level of wastage is therefore something that we can all play our part in tackling. For instance, work has shown that around 30% of the medicines returned to community pharmacies have not even been opened. This means that patients are ordering and receiving medication that they don't need and won’t use.”

Professor Harrison added:

“While I would stress that patients with unused medicines should return them to community pharmacies for safe disposal, this too has a cost as the returned medicines can’t be reused and need to be destroyed.

“These figures do not include the medicines waste that is disposed of in our normal household waste or flushed down toilets, which should never happen because it goes into the water system and has an added impact on our environment.

“By reducing the amount of medicines being wasted each year, we can increase the available funding for other much needed health and care services and at the same time have a positive impact on our environment.”


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