Prescription medications in the UK will soon have labels that show how much the medicine costs the British taxpayer. The move has produced discomfort in some – who fear it may lead to people not sticking to their treatment regimes
The decision to brand medicines with their cost to the NHS was reported by the BBC last week. This report followed an announcement by the UK’s Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.
Mr Hunt suggests that a huge amount of money is wasted every year. That money comes from NHS budgets and is spent on medicines that are prescribed, but never actually taken.
Specifically, the move means that all medications worth more than £20 will show their cost, along with the words ‘funded by the UK taxpayer’.
This is designed to prevent waste by reminding NHS patients of the cost of their treatment. Mr Hunt also suggests that being more aware of the cost of a medicine may make people stick more closely to their drug regimes.
There remain some concerns about the plan, however. This is partly because it is unclear how much money is wasted and exactly why people aren’t taking their medications.
Budget figures have been released by The Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). According to those figures, the current drugs bill for the UK (including administration costs) stands at £15 billion. Of that, Mr Hunt insists that £300 million is wasted on medications that are not taken.
However, Neal Patel from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society told the BBC: “We know that around 30 to 50 per cent of patients don’t use their medicines as intended and there is around £150 million of avoidable medicines waste.”
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society suggests that medications should not be considered wasted if there are good reasons why people are not taking them. Some people stop taking medicines because of side-effects, for instance.
Mr Patel continued: “Although knowledge of the cost of medicines may play a part, it’s equally important we focus on factors such as people’s understanding of the side-effects and benefits from medicines, which also influence whether a condition is treated effectively or the medicine ends up in the bin.”
Pharmacy Voice – an organisation representing over 10,000 UK pharmacists – also expressed concerns about the scheme. Pharmacy Voice told The Guardian: “Pharmacy Voice believes that although this may seem superficially attractive, there is little evidence that it will have the desired effect, and there may be unintended negative consequences.
“The value of a medicine to an individual is about a good deal more than the price. Research shows that some patients, particularly older people, could be deterred from taking the medicines they need because they are worried about the impact on the public purse.”
The organisation suggested that encouraging the correct use of drugs and assessing repeat prescriptions may be a better way to try and tackle waste.
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