(NaturalNews) In the highly regulated government medical system in Great Britain, the waste, fraud and abuse continues to astound even those who are used to its rampant inefficiencies.
Urged in part by some British doctors, patients regularly return unused medications to local pharmacies, many thinking they are doing something positive as a way to make the draconian government healthcare system function a bit more efficiently.
What they don't know; however, is that those medications are never re-distributed. In fact, they all wind up in an incinerator.
About four times a year private companies contracted by the NHS - the National Health System - go around to these pharmacies and collect so-called "clinical waste" - which often includes unused medications but also other items like bandages, anti-fungal shampoo, painkillers, etc. so they can be tossed into a burn bin and destroyed.
In a number of pharmacies, the bulk of the medications are to treat high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes - serious illnesses that can be costly to treat. What's more, the majority of returned medications are in unopened packages. Ninety percent of them are within their expiration date.
One pharmacist interviewed by The Independent, Chandrakant Patel, estimated a recent gaggle of medication bound for the incinerator to be worth a few thousand dollars. The pile included unopened inhalers for asthmatics, and a couple boxes of Entacapone, which is used to treat Parkinson's disease.
The public doesn't know how much waste is involved
Over the course of a year, Patel's pharmacy will send about $20,000 worth of medication to the incinerator. And that's just one pharmacy.
Nationwide, England has close to 11,000 local pharmacies - many of which are larger than Patel's - making the value of returned (and destroyed) medications close to a staggering ?150 million (or about $232 million). And this, the paper said, comes at a time when the NHS has to come up with ?20bn (nearly $31 billion) in savings by 2015.
"It's shocking and the public needs to know about the cost of this wastage," Patel said. "It breaks our hearts seeing this waste day in day out, but we are not allowed to re-dispense these medicines, otherwise we are done for fraud."
Over the course of a year, the NHS spends tens of billions of dollars on medications - or roughly 10 percent of its annual budget, of which about $12.3 billion is spent on primary care. Over the past 10 years, the number of prescriptions has increased some 70 percent.
In 2000, the paper said, there were 552 million prescription items dispensed in England; by 2010 that figure rose to 927 million items.
It's not as if the incredible waste is a big secret. In fact, a government audit in 2007 found that drug waste was a huge cost for the NHS annually, saying there was plenty of room to improve efficiency in prescribing for primary care ailments.
A York Health Economics Consortium report in 2010 estimated that as much as half of the waste could be avoided, simply by being able to re-distribute medications that have already been paid for.
Not everyone agrees with that strategy. Some experts blame patients.
Jonathan Mason, a Department of Health adviser and former national clinical director for primary care and community pharmacy, said the key is to increase the number of patients who take their medications properly.
Is there more waste on the way?
"Studies repeatedly show that one third to one half of prescriptions are not taken as intended. And there are poor outcomes with poor compliance," he says.
That's a good point. Consider that people with serious ailments like high blood pressure or asthma who don't take medication properly are at risk of worsening their conditions - at significantly more cost to the nation.
"Five percent of all emergency admissions are because people do not take their medicines as prescribed, and this is estimated to cost the NHS [in England] ?500m ($773.6 million)," Mason said.
However, he thinks that's a gross underestimation.
In the meantime; however, the waste continues. Welcome to government-run health care, where - as long as tax money is being used to support it - there is no incentive to be efficient.