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Logo of brjgenpracRCGP homepageJ R Coll Gen Pract at PubMed CentralBJGP at RCGPBJGP at RCGP
Br J Gen Pract. 2009 June 1; 59(563): 451.
PMCID: PMC2688054

Medical waste

James Crossingham, GP ST1 Trainee

With the Chancellor's budget having been recently announced amidst the ongoing global economic downturn, I thought it an opportune moment to highlight to readers the current situation of pharmaceutical wastage in the NHS. Currently undergoing a placement in public health I was privy to witness one of many ‘spot inspections’ of a vehicle that was in-transit to the local waste disposal site having collected all discarded medications from a local pharmacy. The contents of the van were astounding. Inside were over 30 plastic sacs containing stacks of unopened blister packs, boxes of unused laxatives, and endless tubs of emollients, most of which were well within their expiry date. In addition, there were over a dozen large plastic tubs full of a certain well-recognised and quite pricey supplement drink, all of which had been unused and subsequently thrown out. At present, the current cost of medicines wastage in the West Midlands stands at an impressive £32 million every year,1 while back in 2006 it was estimated that the cost of returned and unused medicines in total throughout the UK was anything up to £75 million per year.2 Despite these huge figures it would appear that at grassroots level the problem remains largely unchecked and obviously some additional intervention is required in order to reduce this unnecessary and costly drain on our health service. Although the responsibility lies with all healthcare professionals it does appear a large source of wasted medicines, using that inspection as a basis, comes especially from local care homes. Due to the apparent failures in communication that are occurring, the current approach of allowing endless piles of unwanted medicines to accumulate, gather dust, and then be disregarded at the end of the month seems an unforgiveable and unsustainable way to manage the problem.

With the current economic climate, as well as ever-increasing demands on ever-tightening NHS budgets, it would seem prudent to emphasise that efficient medication reviews by GPs, pharmacists, and non-medical prescribers could at least, on our parts, help stem this ruinous haemorrhage of funds from our local PCTs.


1. West Midlands NHS. Medicines Waste Campaign Page. (accessed 15 May 2009)
2. British Pharmaceutical Conference. Britain's £75million drug waste. [News] (accessed 15 May 2009)

Articles from The British Journal of General Practice are provided here courtesy of Royal College of General Practitioners