Thursday 8 December 2011

NHS Waste - Ask the Patients

Funnily enough, I didn't set out to be a welfare warrior.

This blog was actually supposed to be about the NHS. I hoped that my 28 years of NHS in-patient  experience might provide some solutions for positive reform. If you want to know where the NHS wastes money, just ask us patients.

As of yesterday, my medical team have advised me to stop taking the chemo-shots. They don't seem to be doing anything to control my crohn's disease, and because they are such strong immuno-suppressants, I get every last sniffle the boys come home from school with and diligently nurture them into a chest infections or flu.

I've been ill for months and I'm getting so run down it's now dangerous.

Unfortunately, I've just had a delivery of the injections.

They cost the NHS £1000 each. Yep, every fortnight, I plunge a cool grand into my tummy via syringe. That's 24k a year.

I have 4 innocent looking little needle packs glaring at me from the fridge, sending my natural thriftiness into spasm. That's 4K of NHS budget. In a minute, I will have to take the boxes from the fridge, open each one, and squirt the equivalent of my entire yearly income down the toilet.

No-one else can use them you see as they might have been tampered with. (They weren't) Or stored at the wrong temperature. (They weren't).

They can't go back to the manufacturer or the hospital to help some other disease riddled wretch. I can't recycle them in any way. They won't even make very nice Xmas decorations.

Clearly there are simple solutions : 1) Don't send me four at a time. 2) Allow them to be used by someone else.

But for these 4 shots, there is nothing else to be done. I can hardly bring myself to do it.

When I was in hospital last time round, I was fed by central line with something called TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition) Setting up the bags of feed is a devilishly tricky procedure and the feeds themselves cost a fortune. Around £1000 and you need one every day. They too must be refrigerated at the correct temperature and only have a 24 hour shelf life. They are mixed specifically for each patient's nutritional needs. Custom made, pre-digested enzymes and lipids, yum.

On three occasions my TPN went to waste. That's another 3K right there. One went to the wrong ward, one was left out of the fridge all night and one just didn't get put up in time.

If I were in charge of the NHS, it is these utterly senseless puddles of waste that I would crack down on. Surely there's a few billion to be saved in that idea George?


  1. Perhaps Sue we shouldn't be quite so anti private sector involvement in the provision of our healthcare? Probably not for a thousand and one good reasons, but I do wish people would approach the problems of the NHS in an open minded way. There are major failings in the NHS and they are not helped by so many on the left adopting a 'we love our NHS' head in the sand approach.

  2. The problem, Tony, is I am originally from the US, where private sector health care is king. You have no idea how bad that system is over there. I suffered heart trouble earlier this year (one of three hospital trips as my health took a really bad turn). A trip in an ambulance would have me getting nasty phone calls for weeks as the hospital would be badgering me to pay for costs. With no insurance, no doctor would want to give me other than a rudimentary looking-over, and I certainly wouldn't have been given the radiology scan as that would have cost over £10k just to run the test - nothing they'd waste on benefit scrounging scum. Medicine? Forget it, I wouldn't be able to afford any - there's no programme for people on a lower income. It was this sort of system which saw a student friend of mine die from a staph infection from a spider bite. She couldn't afford the $20 prescription for the medication.

    It has been suggested time and time again from patients AND nurses, doctors, surgeons, consultants, etc, that one of the biggest problems is understaffing and waste. That computer systems don't even seem able to communicate with each other whilst located in the same hospital is boggling and yet exactly what is going on. It could take hours to get medication to patients - due to antiquated systems and backlogs of paperwork.

    If the privatised system comes in over here, I fear we'll not only see the sort of system which only treats you if you can afford it in the US, but the same thing which is happening right now for children with special needs in education; the schools which specialised in children with particular needs closed down due to costs, and now the only ones available are run by American groups and cost over £100,000 for a child to attend per year. If you have the money, great, your child is in with a chance, but if you don't, you can fight for years before your child gets adequate education tailored to their needs.

    Not a good future.

  3. Tony, in the past I have been a member of support groups for my particular illness. One of them had mostly american members. They were aghast at the amount of time it took for me to get from GP to consultant to test back to consultant and finally to treatment (if lucky). For me, that could take 8 months. For them it would be a matter of weeks.

    But I also saw the flip side of the coin. I never worried about not being able to afford my meds. I didn't have to sell my house in order to be able to do so. I didn't have to stop my treatment because I could no longer afford it. I didn't go on dodgy websites to get the cheapest drugs I could find. And I didn't die because I couldn't afford to be treated. I know personally of two people who did, one of whom I had become quite close to. It was after that that I ceased being a member.

    All in all, I'd rather be here.

  4. Hi Sue

    I so agree with you. When my mother died I went to return the two carrier bag full of injections, pills and sachets etc. All unopen and in perfect condition. I was shocked when I was told they would take them and dispose of them !! I asked how much that contents would have costed and was told approx £5000 !!!!.

    I can understand throwing away pills in pots as you cannot guarantee they havent been touched but all the unopen packets, injections etc!!!

    I asked the receptionist how common all these prescriptions are going to waste and she told me everyday 10-20 people bring medications to throw away unused. She said a lot of the waste is caused by doctors not wanting to have to keep writing out the same prescriptions over and over again. Its a time cutting effort but surely its a cost wasting effort that the NHS can least afford to provide.

    I couldnt start to work out how much the total figure of wastage would come to but I expect most surgeries are seeing medication returned daily and thats a lot of waste.

  5. There's definitely a lot of waste that goes on. My GP twice ordered the wrong size of support stockings for me and they said they would have to throw them out, they where still in the packaging unopened and there is no date on them or way to tamper with them either. So, I donated them, surely there is someone who can make good use of them.

    The NHS is not perfect, but it's better than private and everyone is cared for no matter their income.

  6. I definitely don't see why anyone assumes that private companies would do better. As most people who have ever bought stuff know, private companies are not always run in an efficient or user-friendly way.

    1. By your line of reasoning you would advocate:
      A monopolistic government beaurocracy devoted to distributing food and regulating the quality thereof. We could pay for it through our taxes and everyone would get just what they need...
      Goods and services are provided by the market but not by government.

  7. I am a pharmacist and when people bring back drugs and seem shocked that they must be thrown away, i ask whether they would like to be given second hand injectables, or baby food.

    When you think about it from the other side you must see the reasoning? It's a waste, but safety comes absolutely first.