One of the biggest wastes of resources in the NHS is the number of prescribed medicines that people collect from the pharmacy, but quickly stop taking. Why? A multitude of reasons. Sometimes people haven’t had the reason for the medicine properly explained, or they simply feel better, or they get side effects, or it doesn’t work for them. Fine if it’s a short-term medication for pain relief; not so good if it’s maintenance treatment for a long-term condition that will probably get worse without treatment.
There have been many attempts to improve the numbers of people using their medicine appropriately. This doesn’t necessarily mean continuing to take a drug that isn’t working for them, but getting appropriate advice and perhaps switching to a different drug with a different side effect profile. Most attempts have been around giving better information to patients about their medicine, either in the GP surgery or in written patient leaflets.
A few years ago, the NHS tried something different. We know that most people who have problems with medicines get these problems in the first week or two after they start a new drug. Community pharmacists have vast and under-used skills in medicines management – and are handy for patients. The New Medicines Service was born. The idea is that people with specific conditions (asthma, COPD, diabetes, hypertension) are invited for a chat with the pharmacist 7 to 14 days after starting a new medicine, either in the store or by phone. The pharmacist asks how it’s going, whether they are having any problems with the medicine, have any questions about it, and whether they are still taking it as planned. That’s it – simple.
Nottingham University finished it’s report on the effect of the scheme last month. It makes heartening reading. The numbers of people who are either taking their medicine as planned, or who have taken appropriate advice about it, rose from 60 in 100 to an impressive 70 in 100. People liked and valued the service. Even better, an economic analysis showed it has a modest cost and is likely to save the NHS money, while improving the health-related quality of life of patients.
The report recommends that the service continues to be funded and is extended to other disease areas. It calls for greater integration with other community services such as GP surgeries. As is sometimes the case, this modest service, using existing community facilities, has quietly achieved what many have failed to do before.