At least £300m is wasted every year on prescription medicines which go unused, figures have shown.
A report commissioned by the Department of Health has suggested that around half of the waste associated with unused drugs is avoidable.
The study found that the gross annual cost of NHS primary care waste and that occurring in care homes is £300m in England, but this could be an underestimate.
According to the study, the sum represents approximately £1 in every £25 spent on primary care and community pharmaceutical and allied products use, and 0.3% of total NHS outlays.
It includes an estimated £90m worth of unused prescription medicines that are retained in individuals' homes at any one time, £110m returned to community pharmacies over the course of a year, and £50m worth of NHS supplied medicines that are disposed of unused by care homes.
Some of the waste is "inevitable", the report said, due to over-ordering on prescriptions, patients getting better before all the medicine is taken, people suffering unwanted side-effects and the patient dying.
But it added that bigger savings could be made by encouraging people to adhere to their prescription regime and manage their medicine better overall, in part because people would suffer less ill health and need less NHS care.
Researchers from the York Health Economics Consortium and the School of Pharmacy at the University of London said that taking medicines in the most optimal manner could save up to £500m in just five areas – asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, vascular disease and schizophrenia.
The NHS is also no worse than other countries when it comes to wasting medicines, said the study, which was based on figures for 2009.
Report co-author Professor Paul Trueman said: "Many health professionals and members of the public believe that the physical waste of NHS medicines is a major issue.
"We should do everything we can cost effectively to reduce it.
"But we have not found that the NHS has a systemic problem with drug wastage which marks it out from other health services.
"In value terms there is more to be gained from helping people to take their medicines more effectively, even though this may increase the overall volume of drugs paid for."
Copyright © Press Association 2010
Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"I have said for at least the last 12 years that there is a fortune being thrown away on a daily basis. A high percentage of these medicines are still sealed in their boxes; inhalers are a prime example. Surely it doesn't take a rocket scientist to think about this and even suggest setting up a collecting point or points where an independent pharmacist could check the items before releasing them back in to the system? Clearly
if the medication has been opened then it would have to be destroyed but no matter what, the country could send it to one of the third world countries rather than just sending it up in smoke!!" - Ian Wright, Bournemouth