At least a quarter of people with heart disease are failing to take the vital medicines which they have been prescribed to prevent heart attacks and strokes, according to new UK research.

The study found that 29% of the 472 patients listed on the heart disease register of a large general practice in the northeast of England were failing to take medicines to prevent strokes and heart attacks sufficiently regularly. Moreover, 23% were missing doses of statins prescribed to reduce their cholesterol. Women were slightly more likely to take their medicines on schedule than men, as were older patients and those taking larger numbers of medicines, according to the study, which has been presented at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain’s (RPSGB) annual British Pharmaceutical Conference, taking place in Manchester in this week.

The findings, which will also be published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, confirm that doctors need to pay more attention to the way patients take their medicines, in line with the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence’s (NICE) guideline on medicines adherence, which was published on January 28 this year, says the study.

“Simply prescribing a drug is not enough. Doctors and other members of the primary care team, such as pharmacists, need to work with patients so they understand the importance of taking their medicines in the right dose, at the right time,” said pharmacist Wasim Baqir, from The Village Green Surgery, Sunderland, who conducted the research.

- According to NICE’s guidance, 30%-35% of medicines prescribed for long-term conditions are not used as prescribed. It calls on healthcare professionals to encourage patients to engage in a two-way dialogue so that they are involved in the decision to prescribe and the patient’s decision to use medicines is an informed one; this includes clearly explaining to the patient about the disease or condition and how the medicine influences this, and clarifying what the patient expects from treatment. Professionals should also listen to any concerns patients might have about the medicines they have been prescribed – such as possible side-effects and whether they believe the medicine is necessary - and reassure them that support and a follow-up review will be provided should they choose not to take medication, the guidance adds.