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Patients leave the pharmacy with the real issue 'in their back pocket'

The NPA's Stephen Fishwick explains why this year’s Ask Your Pharmacist campaign is encouraging pharmacists to have greater dialogue with patients

Nine in 10 people agree that talking with a pharmacist will “help you get the most from your medicines and minimises your risk of harm”, according to new research by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA).

Yet many people harbour doubts about their medicines, and find it difficult to raise concerns with their doctor or pharmacist. A patient advocate in Leeds recently told me, in a memorable phrase, that people often “leave the consultation room with the real issue still in their back pocket”.

That’s why the theme of Ask Your Pharmacist (AYP) Week – which runs from November 5-12 – is ‘Let’s talk medicines safety’, with the emphasis on ‘let’s talk’. It’s about encouraging dialogue between patients and healthcare professionals that is full, frank and empowering.

In February, the Department for Health and Social Care published its report on reducing medication-related harm. Alongside this was an evidence review which showed that over 200 million medication errors occur at some point in the medication process – prescribing, dispensing, administering, monitoring and use – in England, per year. At least 6% of emergency re-admissions caused by adverse drug reactions (ADRs) could potentially be avoided and the estimated costs to the NHS of “definitely avoidable” ADRs is £98.5m.

The report identified one of the contributing factors to be sub-optimal communication between patients and healthcare professionals. In particular, more needs to be done to promote joint decision-making – with patients and carers playing a more active role in their medicines management and feeling comfortable to raise any concerns about their medication.

Key message to communicate to patients

So, during Ask Your Pharmacist Week, a key message to communicate to patients is if they think the medicines they have been supplied with, or the advice and instructions that have come with them, are not right for them, they should say so. A good doctor or pharmacist will not be offended and should welcome the opportunity to reassure the patient, to clarify information, or to discuss alternatives.

Patients should feel free to ask their pharmacist anything at all about their medicines, health and wellbeing. It is better to reveal too much information than not enough, so they should be able to bring up problems even if their doctor or pharmacist hasn’t asked about them.

We are also reminding people with long-term conditions that they might be eligible for one of the free NHS medicines advice services in pharmacies – such as medicines use reviews – designed to help patients get the most out of their medicines.

The World Health Organisation aims to reduce medicines-related harm globally by 50%.  Please play your part in reaching that ambitious target by supporting the 'Let’s talk medicines safety' initiative. There will be lots for you to share on social media during the week – we’ll be using #talkmeds and #askyourpharmacist.

For more information about the campaign, please email me at [email protected]

Stephen Fishwick is head of communications at the National Pharmacy Association


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