The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is in early discussions over the potential for a Quality Standard on the optimal use of medicines, to help the National Health Service get better value out of available treatments.

Speaking at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical conference in London last week, Keith Ridge, the government's chief pharmacist, said he is pushing for a quality standard on medicines optimisation to help drive a culture change and inform a new "way of thinking across the system".

According to Ridge, medicines optimisation is central to an outcomes-focused quality system, but, he was keen to stress, it is not "medicines management repackaged".

Indeed, the government seems keen to distance itself from medicines management, which largely became an exercise in local cost cutting rather than trying to unlock the potential long-term value of therapeutic treatments and get the best outcomes for patients.

Medicines are the most common therapeutic intervention in healthcare, with around one billion prescriptions dispensed in England every year. 

However, it is esimated that 30%-50% are not taken as intended, while 5%-8% of hospital admissions are down to adverse events, most of which are preventable. 

And every year, £300 million of NHS money goes down the drain because of medicines waste, £150 million of which is thought to be avoidable. 

This, against a backdrop of unprecedented financial austerity, burgeoning demand on healthcare services, and a slow uptake of innovative treatments, makes it more urgent that ever to ensure that the NHS is able to make the most of the medicines on offer.

NHS planning boost meds uptake

What is needed, Ridge said, is a more rapid understanding of where new medicines fit into a care pathway, and pharma - which is a key player in the success of this - could be doing more on this.

Better NHS planning has been shown to improve medicines uptake, he said, stressing the the NHS needs advance information on a new medicine to better plan for its use.

The industry and the NHS can work together to improve the use of medicines in the country, Ridge noted, arguing "medicines optimisation is a core business for the NHS Commissioning Board and so should be a core business for pharma".

Also speaking at the conference, Jon Mason, clinical advisor at NHS East London and City, stressed that "we must move away from thinking of medicines as a cost". 

"A shift in optimisation will lead to a shift to getting reward on investment," he said.