Guidance on returned/unwanted medicines (England Only)

04 May 2020

Community pharmacies routinely accept unwanted/out-of-date/waste medicines for disposal from patients and households, as this is an NHS contractual requirement. It is important to note that this service has not been suspended during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA), the Pharmaceutical Services negotiating Committee (PSNC), the Community Pharmacy Patient Safety Group (CP PSG) and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) have worked together to produce guidance for community pharmacy teams to safely handle returned unwanted medicines. The guidance is based on the current best information on how long the coronavirus survives on surfaces. Additionally, we have simplified the process for handling returned medicines into checklists to assist your teams.

For patient safety reasons, it is important that patients and households remain able to return unwanted medicines to the pharmacy for disposal during the COVID-19 pandemic, to avoid the potential risk of accidents, overdoses and misuse. Community pharmacy teams have understandably expressed concerns about the potential for infection from unwanted medicines returned to the pharmacy for disposal, where the patient may have/had coronavirus (COVID-19).

The pharmacy also has a duty of care to support patient safety and accept unwanted medicines back for disposal in as safe a manner as possible. Safeguarding patient/public safety and that of the pharmacy team is of paramount importance. Both factors need to be considered when making a decision about whether your pharmacy can safely accept unwanted medicines for disposal at any specific point in time.

In the current pandemic, this means implementing additional steps to minimise the risk of infection from returned medicines both to those seeking to return the unwanted medicines and the pharmacy team.


Access the guidance and checklists


For further advice and support, please contact the NPA pharmacy services team on 01727891800 or email


Keep up-to-date with the latest news, information and NPA guidance on the NPA’s dedicated Coronavirus (COVID-19) hub