The true cost of Medical Waste

It’s estimated that every year unused medications costs the NHS around £300 million, funds which could be spent on a number of other services, such as the employment of more nurses, or an increase in number of operations performed – the financial possibilities are endless. Aside from the monetary burden, there’s also the health risks to think about: if patients are not using or taking their medication as prescribed, are they going to get better, or will they, as a result, need further treatment?

So what is waste?

Waste is defined as ‘an act or instance of using or expending something carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose’. Pharmaceutical waste is any medication not used as prescribed, either partially or completely. There are many reasons that medication is wasted, the main one being non-compliance, which is the act of not taking medication exactly as prescribed. This can be intentional, when a patient skips or stops taking their medication, perhaps due to side effects or personal belief, or non-intentional, where a patient misses a dose due to forgetfulness.

Medical waste can also be termed preventable and non-preventable. Preventable waste usually comes in the form of patients dispensing all items from repeat prescriptions, ‘just in case’ and then not using the excess medication. Non-preventable waste occurs when medication becomes unusable due to unavoidable reason, such as the patient switching treatment or passing away. Together this adds up to create the £300 million loss suffered by the NHS every year, and for the patients themselves, not taking medication properly can lead to a loss in therapeutic effect.

Pharmaceutical waste is costing the UK both money and good health, but there are ways to reduce our medical waste. MedicineWaste is a campaign aimed at patients, to raise awareness and reduce the amount of medication wasted in the UK every year. The main recommendations include:

  • Only ordering the medication that is needed; even if medication returns to a pharmacy unopened, it is still considered unusable, and so is wasted.
  • Increase communication and awareness between doctors and patients; doctors need to be more aware of when patients actually will finish their medication, in order to avoid prescribing more than necessary.
  • Ensuring unused or unwanted medication is taken back to pharmacies, or to the place where it was dispensed; even though the medication will be unusable, when not disposed of correctly, it could pose safety risks to others and the environment.

How can Medic help?

Our app is designed to increase medication adherence through an easy and intuitive platform that allows quick and simple scheduling of medication, coupled with useful reminders to ensure medication is taken at the right time and the right dose. Additionally, our Carer feature allows tracking of the medication adherence of two loved ones and dependents, providing peace of mind for those who care.

By increasing the medication adherence of patients, Medic can reduce the amount of wasted and unused medications, saving the NHS time and money, and creating a healthier future for all.


Author: Mohammed Alaboud – Summer Intern