The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain is calling for a new five-10 year action plan to help improve medicines safety in the UK.

The group has published a new report – The Contribution of Pharmacy to Making Britain a Safer Place to Take Medicines - which is intended to help attain the ultimate goal of establishing Britain as the safest place in the world to receive medicines.

While patient safety is clearly already a key priority for the National Health Service - Lord Ara Darzi stated in his report High Quality Care For All that “Continually improving patient safety should be at the top of the agenda for the 21st century” – preventable harm caused by medicines is still costing more than £750 million a year in England alone, the RPSGB says, and so aside from the risks to patients it is also a substantial drain on resources.

Medicines safety has traditionally been split into three subcategories: drug safety; the safe and correct use of medicines by healthcare professionals; and non-adherence by patients. In reality, the report says, these areas are closely interlinked and it claims that pharmacy “is ideally placed as a profession to bring them all together in an integrated approach to making medicines safer”.

According to the Society, there is now a considerable opportunity for pharmacy to make a difference to medicines safety and, aside from its call to pharmacists and key healthcare providers to draw up a five-10 year action plan, it makes 17 recommendations in its report to help shape future practice in the area.

Recommendations for change
For example, it suggests setting up a pharmacovigilance network of hospital pharmacists to keep a tab on emerging side effects linked with newly-licensed drugs.

In addition, it says the new professional body for pharmacy should “use its influence to ensure that medicines safety remains at the forefront of professional education and development in pharmacy”, as well as develop “a repository or portal for knowledge sharing on medicines safety” with other stakeholders.

Furthermore, it recommends considering the establishment of a “national working group” to assess whether the pharmaceutical industry can do any more to improve the safety of medicines.

“Patients need help and guidance with medicine taking; they need to form partnerships with experts, to have access to clear, relevant information, and to be provided with the latest research on their medicines,” said one of the report’s authors Professor Nick Barber. “Pharmacists are ideally placed to play a vital role in this process and to drive further progress on medicines safety.”

The publication of the RPSGB’s report closely follows findings of a study conducted by a team at Liverpool University that one in seven patients experiences side effects from their medication while in hospital, and that as many as half of these cases could be avoided.

The researchers estimate that adverse drug reactions cost the NHS in England more than £637 million a year, which equates to around £5,000 per hospital bed, and stress that “effective intervention strategies are urgently needed to reduce this burden.”

New award to reinforce commitment
Meanwhile, alongside its report the RPSGB also launched a new annual award – Improving Medicines Safety – designed to celebrate “specific improvements which have led to documented benefits for patients”.

“This award will highlight good practice and disseminate important innovations in medicines safety,” said Jeremy Holmes, the Society’s chief executive and registrar. “It is part of our determination to promote the skills of the pharmacy profession and we hope that it will become the benchmark for excellence in the field.”