It means doctors can be left in the dark about who is taking what. But now NHS Borders wants patients to start talking to their GPs, pharmacists, district nurses or health visitors about what medications they are actually taking.
They want Borderers to think about saying ‘no’ to repeat prescriptions of drugs when they already have enough; to use local pharmacies first for minor ailments; and for people not to worry if their GP cuts down on the quantities of medicines prescribed.
And, importantly, they also want people to tell their pharmacist, nurse or GP surgery if they have stopped taking a certain medication, for whatever the reason.
It is not just about saving money. There is evidence the more medicines someone is on, the more likely they will have a hospital admission related to their medicines.
All this is why NHS Borders is launching a major public awareness campaign.
The £600,000 of medicines referred to includes returned and unused drugs deposited in special waste bins in pharmacies as well as those drugs and medicines dumped in household bins or flushed down toilets - which also has environmental implications.
This wasted expenditure could fund 20 additional nurses; 250 additional children’s operations; 10,000 additional physiotherapy appointments; 4,000 additional outpatient appointments or five extra doctors.
NHS Borders associate medical director, Dr Jonathan Kirk, believes people are often too embarrassed or too polite to tell GPs when they stop taking certain medications. “But we actually want people to feel more empowered when it comes to their medicines,” he said.
“We want patients to feel they can say ‘no’ to medicines if they know they won’t take them. We need people to get involved in discussions around medicines, understand the pros and cons and make informed choices.”
“And we want families to begin a conversation with relatives, particularly those more elderly and frail, and find out exactly what they have in their medicines cupboard.
“It’s very easy for the number of medicines patients are taking to mount up and in frail adults, there’s a tipping point where too many medicines can start to cause, rather than prevent, harm.
“So when you’re next visiting your GP, have a conversation about your medicines to make sure there is a clear understanding about which ones are essential.”