NPC Archive Item: The Contribution of Pharmacy to Making Britain a Safer Place to Take Medicines

NOTE – This is an archive post from the NPC and has not been updated since first publication. Therefore, some hyperlinks may no longer be working.

NPC Logo

20th March 2009

In the publication ‘The Contribution of Pharmacy to Making Britain a Safer Place to Take Medicines’, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) revisits its ambition to establish Britain as the safest place in the world to receive medicines.  As an organisation the RPSGB will be demerging from its current structure into two separate bodies, one regulatory (The General Pharmaceutical Council) and the other a professional body with a key emphasis on improving all aspects related to medicines safety.

The publication of national reports and policy documents has contributed to improved patient safety in recent years.  For example, the Audit Commission’s report ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’1, resulted in significant changes to hospital pharmacy practice, such as the increased use of admission policies, medicines reconciliation, one stop dispensing, and the adoption of automated systems  In addition, campaigns such as the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) 100,000 Lives Campaign2, the English Patient Safety First Campaign3, the Welsh 1000 Lives Campaign4, the Scottish Patient Safety Campaign5 and the Safer Patient Initiative6 are making improved patient safety a high priority.

The focus of medicines safety has traditionally fallen into three areas, which have generally been seen as separate issues:

  • The safety of the medicine itself (e.g. manufacturing,  potential side-effects etc)
  • The use of medicines by healthcare professionals and carers which includes prescribing, dispensing administration and monitoring
  • Non adherence by patients

The RPSGB believes that these areas are related and that pharmacy has a contribution to make to all three, resulting in a safer approach to medicines.

Lord Darzi in his report ‘High Quality Care for All’7 state’s that ‘continually improving patient safety should be at the top of the agenda for the 21st Century’. The RPSGB publication suggests there is a need for more rigorous evaluation of interventions to reduce errors and proposes the development of a set of measures for medicines safety and of commissioning work to establish a baseline from which to monitor improvements.

This RPSGB publication has set out the priorities for action in the short, medium and long term, with the new professional body committed to keeping patient safety high on the agenda.  It lists 17 recommendations which include:

  • Consultation with key stakeholders
  • Safety in the patient’s home
  • A network of hospital pharmacists to report on adverse drug reactions (ADRs)
  • Support for the increasing role of pharmacy technicians in the pharmacy workforce
  • Patient and public involvement in promoting medicines safety
  • Prioritise area for research where there are gaps in the literature relating to medication safety

What this means to medicines management
This RPSGB publication highlights the important role that pharmacy can play in making Britain a safer place to take medicines. In reconfiguring its role the professional body will become an active participant in the complex area of medicines management and aid the important role that pharmacy can provide in achieving this goal.

The RPSGB’s recommendation to prioritise medicines safety through encouraging and developing a safety culture and moving medication safety to the top of the agenda will help to support increasing safety for patients taking medicines, and pharmacy teams from community, primary and secondary care can all play their part to ensure that patients get the best and safest use of their medicines.

Pharmacy has the potential to create strong networks, for example the NPC Associates Programme8, which can support the safer use of medicines. NPC Associates from across England meet regularly as part of a comprehensive ongoing educational and support programme on priority issues, including safety, within prescribing and medicines management.  Associates can then apply the knowledge they have gained through the programme to the benefit of their locality.


1Audit Commission. A spoonful of sugar – medicines management in NHS hospitals, London: Audit Commission, 2001. Link.pdf






7 Lord Darzi (2008). High Quality Care for all, Department of Health, 2008.


Please comment on this blog in the NPC discussion rooms, or using our feedback form.