GPs Warn Against Medicine Waste As Pill Packet Photo Goes Viral

"When I ask to see patients’ cupboards, they often look better stocked than most local pharmacies."

GPs are urging patients not to waste medication after a photograph showing packets of unused pills was shared on Facebook.

Dr Max Patrick posted the photo of the medication, which he claims was left behind by a NHS patient who moved away, and returned to a GP practice by a relative. The photo has been shared more than 70,000 times on Facebook.

“It includes nearly £1,000 of diabetic items, £100 of nasal sprays and much more. All unused. All wasted,” wrote Dr Patrick. “The cost of this pile would pay for an NHS nurse for almost one month. The NHS cannot survive this abuse. But this keeps happening often.

“If you do not want to take some of your meds, please tell your General Practice. Please do not waste medication.”

With fears of medication shortages due to ongoing supply chain problems, and growing uncertainty surrounding access to medication post-Brexit, some people with prescriptions have been driven to stockpiling medicine, just in case.

However pharmacists and GPs warn against doing so.

In response to the photo, Dr Kenny Livingstone, a registered GP and chief medical officer of ZoomDoc, told HuffPost UK that medication wastage is a “huge problem” for the NHS.

“I do home visits and when I ask to see patients’ medication cupboards to ensure they are taking the correct medication, they often look better stocked than most local pharmacies,” he said.

“As GPs we try to control medication usage and dispensing, but many patients still store up medications or request excess, even if they are no longer taking them.”

It’s thought unused prescription medicines cost the NHS an estimated £300m a year. This can occur if someone orders prescription medicine without the intention of taking it, or has failed to stop repeat prescriptions.

The viral photo prompted cries, however, that it’s not just patients who are to blame. One Twitter user said: “Wasteful, but not always the patient’s fault. My parents died within eight days of each other and left a cupboard of medication.

“Repeat prescriptions sent out regularly, pills prescribed instead of trying to understand symptoms, doctors too busy, I guess. Don’t just blame patients.”

Another added: “Have seen this before and it tends to happen in older people, particularly where some dementia is involved, too. Not helpful to post it in a contextless way so that everyone can get all outraged about it.”

Dr Livingstone said once medication is given to a patient, it can’t be returned and then reused by others. If it isn’t used, it simply goes to waste.

“The difficulty we also have is as that even if the medication is returned to the local GP or pharmacy, unopened, it still needs to be discarded,” he said.

“Personally, I think this needs to change but the powers that be feel that the risk of tampered medication being re-dispensed to other patients is too high.”

So, what can you do with your old meds?

Anyone with out-of-date medication or medicine they are no longer using should return them to their GP or local pharmacy, where they can be disposed of safely. You should not dispose of old pill packets in the bin or down the drain, as they can enter waterways or could be consumed by animals or young children.

When asked for comment about the viral photo, an NHS spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “Anyone who feels they are taking too many medicines should speak to their GP or pharmacist.

“Clinical pharmacists in care homes and GP surgeries are increasing and improving medicine reviews as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, so that patients get the right treatment and avoid unnecessary medication, while also helping to reduce the estimated £300m cost to the NHS every year from unused drugs.”