Pharmacists and care homes: let's keep up the momentum

A lot has happened since the RPS launched its campaign to improve the care of people in care homes in February, which called for a pharmacist to have overall responsibility for medicines and their use in care homes, says the chair of the English Pharmacy Board, Sandra Gidley.

Our research revealed that the average care home resident takes between 7-8 medicines every day, with many taking a lot more. Polypharmacy can lead to increased risk of falls or hospital admissions due to adverse drug reactions, which affect residents’ health and add to the burden on the NHS. In addition, an estimated £24 million is lost every year due to medicine wastage in care homes across England.

We estimated that the NHS could save £135 million a year through the widespread introduction of a pharmacist for every care home across the country. Around £60 million of this results from pharmacists optimising medicines and a further £75 million from reduced hospital admissions.

The positive response we have had from pharmacists, GPs, NHS commissioners and care homes providers has been fantastic.

Most importantly, those who represent people who live and work in care homes have provided useful feedback as well as support for our proposals. Now, of course, there is a need for practical implementation. As co-chair of the NHS England Task and Finish Group for Pharmacist in Care Homes, I am hopeful we can now move from these warm words of support to actions that can improve care.

In September, we will be publishing a report of a round-table event that we held at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in July, where we brought together care home providers, patient representatives, commissioners and GPs to look at where we should focus our efforts.

One area which emerged where community pharmacists could make a real contribution is medicine reviews.

Many of you already visit care homes, but as well as looking at the systems by which medicines are provided, more pharmacists need to start talking directly to residents, carers, nurses and care home staff about how medicines are used and the effects they are having.

Reviewing residents’ medicines can change their lives. Care home providers are often unaware of the evidence around the use of pharmacists in care homes, what a good pharmacy service to a care home should look like and the impact it can have. We need to show them. The administration of medicines has become a huge task – and care homes are looking for solutions around this.

The cost-saving made by employing pharmacists, who free up the time of other staff in the multidisciplinary team, along with the dramatic health improvements that can result from reviewing the medicines a resident is taking, have also attracted the attention of NHS England, who is keen to see progress in this area. Watch this space.

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