Belfast Telegraph

Patient dies with over £6k worth of unused medicine in home

Northern Ireland prescription charges debate needed, says health chief

Mr Pengelly said there was a debate to be had around prescription charges.
Mr Pengelly said there was a debate to be had around prescription charges.
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

Health chief Richard Pengelly has called for a debate around the reintroduction of charges for prescription medicine in Northern Ireland.

The permanent secretary said that he was aware of one patient who passed away with an estimated £6-10k of unused medicines in their possession.

He made the comments at a meeting of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster on Wednesday.

Mr Pengelly was responding to a question from Labour MP Kate Hoey about wastage in the health service.

He said it was difficult for doctors to think about saving money "in the heat of battle" when a patient's health was on the line.

The Department of Health (DoH) boss said that it was a "big issue" but there "wasn't an easy answer".

Questioned by Ms Hoey about horror stories of wasted medicine, Mr Pengelly revealed that such stories were often true.

"My recently retired chief pharmaceutical officer told me a couple of months ago about a colleague of his who is a community pharmacist, a client of his had sadly passed away, but he had to go to the house to remove somewhere in the region of £6-£10k in unused medicines," he replied.

Mr Pengelly said that this medicine could not be put back into the health system for other patients to use, even if unopened.

He said that a new e-pharamacy system could help cut wastage as customers would feel more comfortable ordering only the medicines required.

"Currently for repeat prescriptions you make contact with your GP, in many cases by telephone or letter. For a lot of people with comorbidities (multiple health issues) they are on a number of different medications," Mr Pengelly said.

"It's much easier to ring up and say 'can I have my repeat medication' rather than to say 'I only need that one', some of these drugs are unpronounceable."

Mr Pengelly said that the issue of prescription charges should be revisited.

NHS prescriptions are currently free in Northern Ireland, previous charges were abolished in 2010. England is the only part of the UK where prescription charges apply.

"My own view is that sometimes charging isn't about money, it's about influencing behaviour. I think one of the issues is when we receive goods free we don't always appreciate that there is a cost associated with that good," the health boss said.

"I'm not offering a position on prescription charges, but I think there is debate that needs to be had there."

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