As of next year, prescription items over the value of £20 will carry pricing details.

The move announced by the Government this week is designed to discourage waste and save the NHS billions of pounds in the process.

Prescription items over the value of £20 will carry a price tag and also state that the item was “Funded by the UK tax payer”.

Estimates suggest that up to 50% of patients do not take prescription drugs as intended or instructed leading to waste and of course, further ill health with some patients failing to complete courses of medication or not taking the correct dosage. This inevitably leads to further difficulties and yet more prescriptions. It is thought that by encouraging people to consider the cost of wastage, that they will be more likely to use prescription drugs carefully.

Although the measure might appear to be routed in a negative or guilt-inducing framework it’s good news that there are no plans to reduce NHS spending on drugs which currently totals around £13.3bn. The scale of wasted drugs is estimated at around £300m annually but even research by the Department for Health suggests that only £150m of this is avoidable since patients’ illnesses change over time leaving some medications redundant.

Pharmacists have reacted with mild caution and scepticism saying that whilst there is no expectation for doctors or patients to start to use cheaper drugs, that older people, in particular, are likely to worry about the costs to the public of their treatment.

Although the measure is likely to have some impact there might be better ways to reduce wastage. Patients waste drugs for a variety of reasons that could surely be solved by better education at the point of prescription. People fail to finish courses because they start to feel better or experience side effects or allergies.

If consultations with doctors or pharmacists were used to talk through solutions in more detail, citing benefits of using drugs properly – as well as discussing allergies and possible side effects in order for the patient to feel more comfortable and better understand what the prescription will do.

Patients also need to take responsibility and might even ask whether some prescriptions are necessary at all. In some cases, it may be prudent to watch and wait rather than to jump to a quick fix pill. This is unlikely to be a smart move for people with complex or long term illnesses but there is no doubt that dietary and other lifestyle factors could be applied to support the likelihood of better outcomes.