Open The Bag

Patients urged to "open the bag" as new campaign launches

People in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough are being urged to ‘open the bag’ when they get prescriptions to help reduce medicines waste and save money for the NHS.  

The call comes from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG as part of a new campaign to tackle wasted medicines which costs an estimated £4.67m in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough each year – funds that could be used for reinvestment in health services elsewhere.

Anyone who gets a prescription can help their local NHS by opening their prescription bag at the pharmacy counter when they receive their medicines, and hand anything they no longer need back to the pharmacist. They should also make sure they only order the medicines they will use, as any medicine returned to a pharmacy must be destroyed, even it if has not been opened.

Sati Ubhi, Chief Pharmacist, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG, said: “There are some really easy things which everyone can do to help prevent waste and make the most of scarce NHS resources.

“Our messages are simple – don’t order any medicine you don’t need, open the bag and give anything you don’t require back to the pharmacist or delivery driver, and always tell you’re GP, pharmacist or nurse if you can’t take a medicine.”

Of the £4.67m of medicines wasted each year*, estimates show that in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough:

  • £1.7m is being returned to pharmacies because it’s not needed
  • £1.4m is kept in the home and is out of date
  • £0.78m is disposed of in care homes

Audits show that around half the medication returned to pharmacies has not been opened, which means people are ordering it but don’t even start to use it. Although pharmacies can accept unused medicines back from patients, Department of Health regulations state these cannot be reissued and must be safely disposed of.

Meb Datoo, local pharmacist agrees with the campaign, “The NHS simply cannot afford to waste medicines, and we all have a role to play in this. If you open the bag whilst you’re still in the pharmacy, and find something you don’t need then you can just hand it back to a member of staff, which means it can then be used for another patient. Also if you have any questions or queries about how to get the best from your medicines then just ask to speak to your pharmacist.”

Sati Ubhi added: “People often ask us how they can help reduce costs for the NHS. This is an easy way to do just that, and will make a significant difference. Drugs can only be used by the patient they are prescribed for, and cannot be sent abroad to help in other countries. As a result, any drugs which leave the pharmacy and aren’t used end up being wasted – which is why we’re asking people to take action as soon as they pick up their prescription by opening the bag there and then.” *These estimates are based upon the NHS England national waste report published in June 2015 and applied to our CCG total primary care prescribing spend for 2015/16 to give the breakdown and total waste estimate value in our CCG.