DISPOSING of unused and wasted medicines costs Scotland’s health service more half a million pounds a year, newly released figures have shown.
Tens of thousands of tonnes of prescription drugs were removed and destroyed after being returned unused to pharmacies in parts of Scotland last year.
However, Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume has claimed that the cost to the public purse is much higher, with estimates suggesting that 40 to 50 per cent of patients do not take or use their medicines as prescribed.
Squandered medicines included between 150,000 and 180,000 litres of waste returned to Scotland’s biggest health board Greater Glasgow and Clyde, at a cost of more than £120,000.
There were also over 80 tonnes of unused medicines collected from pharmacies in the Lothian and Grampian areas, according to the National Health Service (NHS) figures for 2011-12 released under freedom of information (FoI) laws.
The news comes despite a series of campaigns by health boards highlighting how the cash spent on wasted medicines could be used for operations.
Ten out of 14 health boards responded to the Liberal Democrat FoI requests which the party asked specifically about the annual costs of removing and destroying prescription medicines that are returned unused to pharmacies. But the wastage bill does not include unused medicines thrown out by patients or the original costs of prescribing the drugs.
Mr Hume called on the SNP government to ensure that health boards take action to reduce what he said were “colossal amounts” of wasted medicines and warned that the money lost was “the tip of the iceberg.”
He said: “Disposing of medicines which are returned unused to pharmacies cost our NHS over half a million pounds last year. But that staggering cost is only the tip of the iceberg.
“Our figures do not show the cost of the medicines that are being wasted, or the costs around prescribing them in the first place. Across Scotland colossal amounts of medicines are being wasted.
“In future years the NHS is going to have to do more with less. We must all do our part to ensure that every penny is used effectively and that wastage is reduced.”
However, a Scottish Government spokeswoman insisted that health boards were taking action to reduce the amount of drugs wasted through services offering medication advice.
The spokeswoman said: “Reducing medicine waste is something everyone needs to be involved with, which is why health boards are working through local campaigns, GPs and pharmacies to make sure patients understand how and when to take their prescription.”