The Scottish government should make changes to the pharmacy contract to ensure pharmacists do not have an incentive to over-order repeat prescription drugs, Audit Scotland has warned, in an attempt to save the NHS £26 million a year.
NHS boards and patients in Scotland had reported "a number of problems" with pharmacy repeat prescription services that were contributing to drug waste, according to an Audit Scotland report.
Some patients were receiving all their drugs, including painkillers, some of which would normally only order when required, it said.
The report, published last Thursday (January 24), called for the government to make changes to the pharmacy contract by removing "the incentive for pharmacists to over-order repeat drugs" caused by paying pharmacists for each item they dispense.
Audit Scotland estimated that the NHS could save £26 million a year without affecting patient care by reducing medicine waste, reducing the use of drugs considered less suitable for prescribing and increasing generic prescribing.
NHS Boards should also work with GPs to ensure they only prescribed more expensive versions of drugs to patients who clinically needed them, it said.
But the watchdog commended GPs for cutting spending on prescribing by 11 per cent in 2011-12, despite the volume of prescriptions rising by a third since its last audit in 2004.
Pharmacy had played a "vital role in controlling the costs to the NHS of drugs prescribed by GPs," said chief executive of contract negotiator Community Pharmacy Scotland Harry McQuillan.
"It is community pharmacy, using existing efficient practice, which manages the buying of these medicines on behalf of the NHS – contributing to a saving for the taxpayer of many millions of pounds," he said.
"We agree... that there is scope for more improvement," he added. "Through the Chronic Medication Service, through reviewing less suitable medicines and through increased use of generic medicines, community pharmacy contractors will play a vital role, working with our partners in primary care and beyond. It would be good to see that contribution recognised by the auditor general."
The Scottish Liberal Democrats revealed earlier this month that the disposal of unused drugs was costing Scotland's NHS half a million pounds a year.