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30% are out of date!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.