‘They understood their medicines in a way they never had.’

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A new pilot scheme has shown the value of integrating clinical pharmacists into general practice

The NHS England funded pilot saw more than 490 pharmacists placed in more than 650 GP practices across England, as part of the UK’s move to develop general practice and more fully utilise pharmacists.

Ultimately it is expected that more than 2000 clinical pharmacists will be working in general practice by 2020/21.

Initially, there was some mismatch between what GPs thought pharmacists would be able to do safely while starting out in the role, and some unrealistic expectations about pharmacist capability.

But by the end of the pilot, most of the GP surgeries planned to keep their pharmacist on.

The pharmacists were able to make a “unique and valuable contribution to the primary care skill mix,” the researchers found.

Medication reviews took up a significant amount of the clinical pharmacists’ time, and here they were able to make a significant impact, providing medicines education and usage advice, particularly for those with chronic conditions.

They were also able to deprescribe medicines.

“Pharmacists contribute significantly to patient safety, bring medicines and prescribing expertise, support with prescribing tasks, support for patients with long term conditions including support for healthy lifestyles.

“They have improved medication knowledge in the wider clinical team leading to the prospect of overall improvements in care related to medicines. The introduction of pharmacists has led to increased capacity in practices.

“Although the role requires financial commitment from practices, GPs believe the role to be sustainable, most will keep the one they are working with after the funding expires.”

Research lead Dr Matthew Boyd, Associate Professor in Patient Safety and Pharmacy Practice at the University of Nottingham, said that “Managing the medication for long term conditions takes up a large portion of GP time and is a key area where clinical pharmacists made a significant impact.

“Patients provided the evaluation team with examples of the benefits of time spent with the pharmacist in the practice including greater understanding of their medicines, improved ability and willingness to take their medicines and a feeling of individual value.
“Throughout the process of putting together this report we repeatedly came across examples of the positive impact the clinical pharmacists were having on patient outcomes.

“Patients told us they understood their medicines in a way they never had, and were now trying to follow lifestyle advice to help manage their health conditions such as diabetes and had improved conditions following a medication review. 

“Now we know the positive impact this new pharmacist role can have we need to ensure robust education and training is in place to respond to this new career path.”

Dr Keith Ridge, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer at NHS England, said, “Clinical pharmacists in general practice are playing an important role in the NHS – they are helping GPs to manage demands on their time, they upskill the wider practice team about medicines and crucially, they are providing better outcomes and quality of life for patients, especially elderly patients and those with chronic illnesses.

“The report’s recommendations are timely and we are confident that the benefits of the programme will continue across more GP practices, as we continue the rollout of the program.”

The research was supported by patient representatives and colleagues from the University of Queensland.

Read the full report here.

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