‘The time for action is now.’

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Leading health groups join together to issue 10 recommendations for reducing harm caused by medicines

Too many medicine-related incidents are still occurring and more needs to be done to save lives, a group of leading organisations said in a new report released on Monday.

The report was released by a consortium comprising the Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF), the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia (SHPA), NPS MedicineWise, Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) and academic partners Monash University and the University of Sydney.

Its 10 recommendations include the development of clear medicine safety targets and benchmarks, and the fast-tracking of digital health initiatives relevant to medicine safety.

They also call for the implementation of national medicine reporting systems to capture and respond to medicine errors, near misses, adverse reactions to medicines and health literacy gaps.

The report argues that the aged care sector should be the first priority, particularly with regards to psychotropic medicines, including antipsychotics and benzodiazepines, opioid analgesics and inappropriate polypharmacy.

There should also be a focus on populations at higher risk of harm from medicines, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culturally and linguistically diverse people, and those people living with mental ill-health, among others, it said.

“Quality use of medicines and medicines safety” was made the 10th National Health Priority Area by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council in 2019.

“Medicine safety is a priority for everyone,” said PSA national president Associate Professor Chris Freeman.

“Pharmacists, as medicine experts, stand ready with government to make these whole-of-health system changes which are needed to dramatically reduce medicine-related harm. The refresh of our National Medicines Policy presents an ideal opportunity to start this work.

“Given the findings by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, it is critical that we focus our initial efforts in aged care and then quickly look to curbing harm from high-risk scenarios such as those prescribed antipsychotics, opioids, or sleeping tablets and those prescribed multiple inappropriate medicines.”

CHF CEO Leanne Wells said consumers have lived experience with their medicines, but the health system doesn’t capture this well.

“It is only by having good systems to hear, prioritise and respond to their experiences that we will reduce harm and shift to genuinely consumer-centred care,” said Ms Wells.

SHPA is a proud consortium partner, said CEO Kristin Michaels.

“Hospital pharmacists provide care at the crucial intersection of hospital and primary care, as do geriatric medicines pharmacists in aged care,” said Ms Michaels.

“Our members are dedicated to evidence-based use of medicines and will be powerful drivers of the system change required to reduce medication-related harm, and improve the quality of life of Australians regardless of where and how they receive care.”

Read the full report and its recommendations here

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