Prescribing medicines is the most common intervention by the NHS and there’s no doubt in my mind – medicines are magic!
I’ve learnt a lot about prescribed drugs recently, as part of our work on Medicines Management, and I’ve been spellbound.
I heard about pills that alleviate our pain, solutions that help us sleep and inhalers that keep us breathing.
You gave me my life back
And it’s not just about the drugs themselves, it’s about the magicians – the NHS Wales staff that manage people’s medicines.
At a medicines conference I heard a speaker talk about a North Wales patient that had her life transformed by a pharmacist reviewing and then reducing her prescription for sleeping pills. ‘You gave me my life back,’ she said.
Even magic can be improved
Our report focuses on making the most of medicines. We spend around £800 million on medicines in Wales every year. With the current financial pressures, NHS Wales needs to manage this money wisely, to make sure the magic doesn’t run out.
But it’s not just about money. Our report also focuses on patient safety because if patients’ medicines are not managed well, it can cause them harm through prescribing errors and other complications.
‘Medicines optimisation’ is the term given to managing medicines properly. It basically means getting the best out of our investment in medicines by making sure patients get the right medicines at the right time. It is about improving patients’ outcomes, helping patients to take their medicines properly, avoiding unnecessary prescriptions, reducing waste and improving safety.
Pharmacy teams are vital (but they can’t work their magic alone)
Pharmacists are vital to medicines optimisation. Pharmacists and their teams of technicians and assistants are taking on ever-expanding roles to provide the expert medication advice and treatment we need, in chemist shops, in GP practices and in hospitals.
So pharmacy teams are not just about dishing out prescriptions, pills and potions.
And multi-tasking is nothing new for pharmacy teams. The roots of pharmacy can be traced to Iraq in 4000BC when the forefathers of pharmacists combined their medicinal roles with that of being priests.
In a world where we are struggling to recruit doctors, pharmacy teams with extended skills provide a huge opportunity.
It’s everyone’s business
Crucially though, medicines optimisation cannot just be about pharmacy. Our report emphasises that it’s everyone’s business.
Doctors, in the main, are the staff that decide what medicines to prescribe, and nurses, in the main, are the staff that administer the medicines to patients.
And don’t forget us, the patients! We all have a role to play in taking responsibility for managing our own medicines. For example, have you ever had to throw out medicines that have gone out of date? I know I have. Maybe I didn’t need that repeat prescription after all.
So getting medicines management and optimisation right involves getting everyone to work well together, with patients at the centre of the magic circle.
About the author: Stephen Lisle was the project lead for the work on Medicines Management and has worked at the Wales Audit Office since 2005. Outside work, he loves taking part in sport, and is supported in doing so by his prescription for asthma medicine.