Pharmacy minister Earl Howe has voiced his support for the instillation of a ‘new medicines service’ within community pharmacy, to improve treatment adherence and outcomes and cut down on medicines waste.

Speaking at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee dinner last week, Earl Howe said pharmacists could do more to support patients first prescribed a medicine for a long-term condition, helping to address the fact that non-adherence to treatment is “often a hidden problem - undisclosed by patients and unrecognised by prescribers”.

According to Earl Howe, the potential benefits of a new medicines service are “compelling”, with research showing pharmacists can boost medicines uptake by intervening when the prescription is first handed out and then following-up with patients in the short term, which, he claims, “reduces the use of other health services and leads to significant savings”.

PSNC Chief Executive Sue Sharpe welcomed his support for the scheme. “As well as costing the NHS hundreds of millions a year, inappropriately used medicines lead to a significant proportion of all GP consultations and hospital readmissions,” she said. “By ensuring that a patient is effectively supported right from the start of a new course of medicine, pharmacists can tackle the root causes of non-adherence, saving the NHS money whilst significantly improving patient outcomes”.

The finer details of the proposal are yet to be hammered out by the PSNC and NHS Employers, but final decisions on investment in the scheme, and others in the bag, “will need to take account of availability and affordability of funding”, Earl Howe stressed.

Elsewhere, the health minister also said he was in support of national targets groups for Medicines Use Reviews to ensure that those who would most benefit from the service get access to it.

Targeted MURs "make sense"

Although primary care trusts already have the option to identify target groups according to local priorities for MURs, many simply aren’t doing so, and as responsibility for commissioning community pharmacy services will move to the NHS Commissioning Board, national target groups for MURs “makes even more sense”, he said.

According to Earl Howe, while there has been some criticism over the value of MURs, in those instances where PCTs and pharmacies have agreed to recruit particular patient groups into the scheme reliance on other NHS services has decreased, which is crucial in the current era of financial constraint.

“These service developments are entirely in keeping with the QIPP initiative to release up to £20 billion worth of efficiency savings for reinvestment across the Health Service.  They would also be a timely addition to our efforts to minimise avoidable medicines waste and ensure we get the best from medicines”, he concluded.