“A pill for everything”

Since the formation of the NHS, we have become a nation of pill poppers.   We have developed an expectation that there is a tablet for every ailment.   If we visit our GP we feel shortchanged if we come away without a prescription.  Indeed, how many of us ever do?

Since working with older people, I have always been struck by how many pills and potions they take.   Elderly people’s bathroom cabinets are overflowing.   It is almost a badge of pride to be taking more pills than your friends.   Or is it a subtle cry for attention?

The medication round in nursing homes is a major event several times a day.   Trolleys are laden with a multitude of drugs which have to be carefully controlled, individually accounted for and recorded on medication charts.   Registration officers and pharmacists regularly check up on audit trails to underline the importance of these processes, and mistakes can carry severe penalties.

So how does this work for the majority of elderly people who live alone, often without any support ?   How do you cope taking several different pills a day when your sight is impaired ?   Worse still when your short-term memory is failing ?  It’s not difficult to imagine that the administration of drugs in the community done by people on their own must be much more haphazard ?

According to the Association of the British Pharmicutical Industry:- More than 912 million prescriptions were dispensed in 2007, at an average cost of £10.37 each.

–       This is a cost to the nation of 47 pence per person per day.

–       Medicines account for 10% of total NHS costs which is over £10 billion spent on all NHS medicines.

–       Prescriptions have doubled in number since 1990 and now on average we each have 15 prescriptions per person per year.

In the meantime, let’s start our own little audit:-

How many tablets and potions do we have in our house?  (This includes over the counter medication)

The answer (not including odd boxes around the house and in our cars):-

51 Packets of tablets –  around 1,200 pills in all

12 Potions (excludes cosmetics and suntan lotions)

At least 60% of these have not been used in the last 6 months

 30% are out of date!  But we are keeping them just in case

I dread to think of the wasted cost of that lot !

Maybe eventually we can start a national audit. Without breaking any clinical confidentialities.

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2 Responses to “A pill for everything”

  1. David W Freeman says:

    Pills and alzheimer’s I link together. One needs the other to remember what one is doing. There are some good programmes out there: One family member of mine is being monitored and her medication controlled. The person is still mum, coherant and extremely funny when in company. But the diesease can be a nightmare;To the suffer no problem to the greater family embarressment- But with age comes tolerance and in the end we all just want to be remembered and loved.

  2. David Evans, Cardiff says:

    Just found this fun cartoon . It sums up me and pills totally .
    Remembering to take even one pill every day is hard enough. How on earth people keep track if they have to take several pills morning, noon and night-time I have no idea. No wonder so many pills are wasted.
    By the way in my cupboard I have :-
    asperin , indegestion tablets, lots of plasters and ointments

    All bought at the local shop and mainly out of date I suspect.

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