Palliative Care & The Pharmacy Team – what do we have to offer?

by Elizabeth Lewis, Palliative Care Pharmacist

What do we pharmacists have to offer?

I have just retired, having had a very rewarding career as a palliative care pharmacist. I firmly believe pharmacy has a key role to play in supporting patients and their families, as well as other professions, in the delivery of palliative care services in both community and secondary care. Currently we are an under used resource but have the potential to offer much more to existing services.

Community Pharmacists are ideally placed to advise on the safe and effective use of medicines. The local pharmacist is a readily accessible source of information and advice for both the patient and those supporting them. With improved communication with fellow professionals in both the community and secondary care services they would be better placed to ensure the supply of essential medication and support. This in turn would help community services in supporting patients who wish to die at home.

In secondary care the inclusion of an advanced specialist pharmacist in the palliative care multidisciplinary team is beneficial in providing advice on all aspects of medicines management from the suitability and availability of drugs and the prescribing options to the use of drugs in renal and hepatic failure. Non specialist pharmacists also have a role in ensuring symptom control is optimised, appropriate and effective.

For pharmacists to reach their full potential in the field of palliative care they need access to education and, where appropriate, the opportunity to gain experience in working with palliative care patients.

The scope of palliative care includes many non-cancer diagnoses and, with an ageing population, there are more patients requiring palliative care input than ever before. Pharmacy needs to rise to the challenge. We have made a start in Wales and have formed the All Wales Palliative Care Pharmacist Group, for pharmacists with a particular interest in palliative care.

*The group undertakes projects on a national basis such as the Just in Case Box scheme and the development of the syringe driver chart and also acts as a support group for its members.

We need to build on these foundations to ensure pharmacy provides great care for palliative care patients and continues to develop expertise in palliative care medicines use across the whole range of pharmacist roles

Elizabeth Lewis is a major contributor of expertise to our new Palliative and End of Life Care policy for Wales, which will be published at the end of November and launched at the RPS Medicines Safety Conference  in Cardiff on November 22.

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