How can we improve transfer of medicines information?

By Heidi Wright, RPS Policy and Practice Lead

Taking a medicine is the most frequent method that patients use to improve their health. In particular, older people and those with long term conditions rely heavily on medicines as a way of managing their illnesses.  These patients, often with strict and complicated medication regimes, are some of the most vulnerable to problems with their medicines when they transfer care settings. Whether it’s from care homes to hospitals, or mental health hospitals to home, these are times when the risk of medication errors tends to increase.

In fact, research shows that around 60% of patients have 3 or more medicines changed during their hospital stay, 20% experience side-effects after having their medicines changed and almost half of all patients experience an error with their medicines after they are discharged from hospital.

I think it’s unacceptable that patients still have so many problems with their medicines when they move between different care settings. This has been an ongoing issue for as long as I can remember and is really frustrating as vital medicines can end up being taken late or missed out altogether. It is the responsibility of all the professionals involved in the care of a patient to ensure the safe transfer of information about medicines.

Today sees the launch of the final report of our 6 month project, ‘Keeping patient safe when they transfer between care providers – getting the medicines right’.

I wanted to see the  guidance we produced back in July 2011, put into practice, and I am really pleased that 33  sites  volunteered to try and implement it locally.

It is really heartening to see the hard work of the volunteers coming to fruition; we have witnessed a wide variety of developments, for example, the creation of ‘medicines passports’ where all patients’ medicines are recorded, including any changes made during a hospital stay and ‘green bag’ schemes which encourage patients to keep all of their medicines together on admission and discharge to hospital.

With around 4-5% of hospital admissions being due to problems which could have been prevented by the correct use of medicines, an estimated cost  of £466 million a year to the NHS in England, reducing avoidable harm and medicines related admissions to hospital remains paramount and these projects have really made a step in the right direction.

Having reviewed all the experiences of the sites, the RPS has now developed a series of recommendations we’d like to see adopted across the NHS. However, we can only achieve this by putting the patient’s needs firmly at the centre of our intentions and collaborating closely across professions.

We are determined to drive this agenda forward and will continue to work with partners and stakeholders to ensure medicines information is transferred safely and effectively when patients move between care providers.