The pharmaceutical industry has "an absolutely key role" to play as the NHS focus moves from medicines management to medicines optimisation, and consensus is needed across the entire pharmaceutical industry about the value of medicines, a leading health official has said.

Medicines optimisation is patient-focused, outcomes-based and quality-driven, Dr Keith Ridge, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer at the Department of Health, told the Pharmacy Management National Forum in London recently. This is not medicines management repackaged - medicines optimisation is a much more sophisticated model which will bring a much faster understanding of where a medicine fits, particularly as systems are reoriented towards outcomes, he said.

It will also require a level of patient and public engagement not previously seen, and patient-centred professionalism, he added.

We have to make the most of medicines, he said, but wondered whether as a society we are currently doing so, and also asked if pharma could be doing more to enhance further its contribution to society. The NHS drugs bill was nearly £13 billion last year, but an estimated 30%-50% of medicines are not taken as directed, and £300 million-worth are wasted in primary care each year.

“There is a paucity of information around the effectiveness of medicines," he said.

Dr Ridge discussed the challenges facing the NHS and every other health system across the developed world, in terms of dealing with an ageing population, the rise of lifestyle-related diseases, the development of new technologies and making space to use them, patient demand and other issues. However, he also pointed out that, seen "through the other end of the telescope," there are not many industries that will, over a period of time, see their client numbers triple.

It is absolutely critical, he emphasised, that medicines optimisation is seen to be clinically-led. "The clinical engine room of the NHS Commissioning Board needs absolutely to buy into this," he said, adding: "every directorate in the Board will be interested in medicines." 

Dr Ridge is now in early discussions with the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) about the development of a Quality Standard for Medicines Optimisation. I would hope this is one of the earliest - it could inform many other Quality Standards," he told the conference, which was organised by Pharmacy Management in collaboration with the Department of Health.