People urged to “open the bag” as new campaign launches

Open The Bag 5People in Norfolk and Waveney are being urged to ‘open the bag’ to help reduce medicines waste and save money for the NHS.

The call is being made as part of a new campaign to tackle wasted medicines which costs about £4.7m1 in Norfolk and Waveney each year. In weight, these add up to around 176 tonnes – the same as 176 elephants.

Called ‘Your Medicines, Your NHS’, the year-long, four-phase campaign has been organised by Norfolk and Waveney’s five clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) – Norwich, North Norfolk, West Norfolk, South Norfolk and Great Yarmouth and Waveney.

Patients are being urged to do their bit to help the NHS by cutting down unnecessary waste, in turn saving money for reinvestment in health services elsewhere.

The easiest way people can do this is by opening the bag at the pharmacy counter when they receive their medicines and handing anything they no longer need back to the pharmacist. They should also make sure they only order the medicines they will use, as any medicine returned to a pharmacy must be destroyed, even it if has not been opened.

Ian Small,  a medicines management expert for Norwich CCG said: “People often ask us how they can help reduce costs for the NHS. This is an easy way to do just that, and will make a significant difference.

“Drugs can only be used by the patient they are prescribed for, and cannot be sent abroad to help in other countries. As a result, any drugs which leave the pharmacy and aren’t used end up being wasted – which is why we’re asking people to take action as soon as they pick up their prescription by opening the bag there and then.”

Of the £4.7m of medicines wasted each year, estimates show that:

• £1.69m is being returned to pharmacies because it’s not needed
• £1.41m is kept in the home and is out of date
• £0.78m is disposed of in care homes

Audits show that around half the medication returned to pharmacies has not been opened, which means people are ordering it but don’t even start to use it. Although pharmacies can accept unused medicines back from patients, Department of Health regulations state these cannot be reissued and must be safely disposed of.

You can find out more by visiting or following the campaign on Twitter @YourMED_YourNHS and using the hashtags #openthebag and #yourmedicines. Alternatively, visit to watch a short film explaining more.