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At last, common sense prevails

At last, a nugget of common sense has emerged from the mind-numbing chaos of Covid-19.

A Department of Health and Social Care/NHS England guideline published on 14 April has stated, regarding the re-use of medications in nursing homes:

‘The re-use of medications may be appropriate in certain circumstances: When no other stocks of the medication are available, the benefits of using a medicine that is no longer needed by the person for whom it was originally prescribed or bought, outweigh any risks for an individual patient receiving unused medicine.’

I’m old enough to remember the days when patients and patients’ relatives returned unused medications to the GP surgery. It was not uncommon, before the days of regular medication reviews, after a patient had died, to end up with several black sacks full of unused and unopened medications, all in date, which would end up in the bin. This always seemed a monstrous waste to me.

The elderly treat steroid cream like gold paste

There was the other scenario, when a patient had walked out of the pharmacy, realised they had been dispensed the wrong pills and immediately turned around and went back in to the pharmacy to return it, only to be told that as it had been dispensed, despite the fact that was two minutes ago and the packet was unopened, the medication would have to go in the bin.

Unused medications cost the NHS around £300 million a year. Admittedly, those figures meant more when £300 million was a lot of money and not just the weekly bill for paper masks, but, nonetheless, it’s money that could go to better use.

The war-time generation has always understood the need to reduce waste. I’m always amused and delighted when an elderly person comes in for ‘some of this cream doctor’ only to reveal a five year out-of-date empty tube of steroid cream they have eked out to the last, presumably by treating it like gold paste.

If the post-Covid era leads to a greater valuing of resources by all of us, that won’t be a bad thing.

Dr David Turner is a GP in North West London