It cannot have escaped your attention that the media has been writing about food waste. The Guardian recently reported the latest figures, showing that UK households are throwing away £13bn of food each year. This equates to 7.3m tones of household food waste. Of this, 4.4m tones were deemed to be avoidable. This set me thinking about my own food waste. I can honestly state that apart from the occasional out of date yogurts caused “buy” 2 packs for £3 scenario, I either cook and freeze or make the ingredients into soup! I am not precious about sell by dates unless associated with a dairy product, fish or chicken, apart from when I am having people for dinner! I can’t be poisoning the guests? A plaque in my kitchen states… “Many people have eaten here and lived!”
This brings me around to the purpose of this blog. Medicines waste. I feel a bit of a turncoat as I have given many a presentation clearly stating that you cannot compare the difference between Kellogg’s cornflakes and a supermarket cheaper own brand with branded drugs and their generic equivalent. However in this instance there is an analogy.
A report by the Department of Health estimates that unused medicines cost the NHS around £ 300 million every year, with an estimated £ 110 million worth of medicines returned to pharmacies, £90 million worth of unused prescriptions being stored in homes and £50 million worth of medicines disposed by Care Homes.
These figures don’t even take into account the cost to patient’s health and well being if medications are not being correctly taken. If medicines are left unused, this could lead to worsening symptoms and extra treatments that could have been avoided.
Due to the complexity of the causes of medicines wastage, a multifaceted and long-term approach across all healthcare sectors is required including partnership working with third sector organisations, public health, voluntary groups and local councils. Coming to a surgery, pharmacy, library, council office near you soon, will be posters(designed and printed by our local council) letting you know that each year in Dumfries & Galloway, we waste £3m worth of medicines of which over half is avoidable. Look out also, for twitter feeds, Facebook postings and press releases. The posters and social media messages will attempt to engage with the public on how we can work together to reduce medicines waste. Simple tips such as “Only order what you need”; “Check before ordering”; “Don’t stockpile medicines” will feature in our waste campaign. With £3m required to be saved from our drugs budget this year, we cannot afford to ignore the unnecessary cost of waste.
Waste campaigns have been featuring on the Prescribing Support Team’s remit for many years. There was Derek the Digger whose sole purpose in life was to pick up medicines waste by the ton. Then there was our Big Red Bus Campaign. We had a range of items with catchy slogans e.g. erasers stating “Wipe out Medicines Waste”. Last but not least was our ferret, carrying a bag of drugs out of which coins were leaking and going down a drain This time our Waste Campaign will be ongoing. The posters will change, the messages will vary but our mission will stay the same. Medicines cost money and we do not have an endless supply of resources. We need to use our allocated funding for medications where it will benefit patients by improving health outcomes.
And back to the analogy. I must admit that my husband randomly buys jars of chutney despite having adequate supplies in the cupboard. There are far worse faults and I can live with that. I however know what is in my fridge/cupboards/freezer and so I don’t stockpile resulting in wasting food supplies. I think what I need, I buy what is necessary and I don’t buy items that I don’t want. Simple no waste!
It is everyone’s responsibility to promote the messages around using medicines responsibly and I hope we can rely on your support by promoting our campaign.
Dot Kirkpatrick is a Prescribing Support Pharmacist at NHS Dumfries and Galloway