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Wasted Medicines – a burden to the Health Service


Households in the north of Ireland returned almost 58 tonnes of unused or expired prescription medicines last year, the equivalent of five buses.

These returned medicines have an estimated value of £6.6 million and were subsequently destroyed.  It costs a further £420,000 for these medicines to be disposed of safely.

At the launch of a campaign to reduce medicine waste, Health Minister Michelle O’Neill said: Every year, around 40 million prescription items are issued in the north of Ireland.  Healthcare professionals and the public all have a part to play in helping reduce medicine waste.  Improved use of medicines can be achieved by ensuring that the prescribing and supply of medicines are appropriate to patients’ need and that patients are supported in taking their medicines as prescribed.

“Furthermore, it is important that when requesting medicines supplies that we only order what we need and that we take our medicines as prescribed. The additional investment that my Department has made recently in Practice Based Pharmacists will contribute to improving the safety of prescribing and reducing levels of errors and waste through managing the prescribing systems, medication reviews with patients and professional engagement with other healthcare professionals.”

Apart from highlighting the shocking levels of waste, the campaign is also about encouraging members of the public and health professions to play their part in helping to reduce medicine waste.

Joe Brogan, Assistant Director, Integrated Care, Health and Social Care Board, “We’re reminding people not to stockpile medicine as these can go out of date very quickly and when asking for a repeat prescription, please only order what you need. Health professionals too have a key part to play in reviewing existing prescriptions with their patients to ensure the prescribed medicine is still relevant and correctly used.”

In the last year, over 30,000 patients in north of Ireland had their medication reviewed in community pharmacies and received advice on how to use their medicine more effectively and reduce waste. Medication-related issues were identified in 54% of these reviews and 10% of these patients were referred to their GP or other healthcare professional as a result.

Michael Dorman, Pharmacist, Dorman Pharmacy, Coalisland said, “For patient safety reasons, unused medicines which are returned to pharmacies have to be destroyed and cannot be reused. Community pharmacists can help breakdown any barriers which might prevent a patient from taking their medicines and aid their compliance. We can help patients improve their understanding of their medicines, explain how they work and discuss any concerns they may have such as side-effects.”