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Alert to opportunities

New patient safety initiatives in England require local leadership from pharmacists. What are some of the opportunities this presents?

Bryony Dean Franklin

I am writing this with a feeling I can best describe as a combination of minor stress and excited optimism. This is because there is a lot going on in our profession — and I believe we are entering a period of unprecedented opportunity for pharmacy in England.  

First, as announced in March’s patient safety alert from NHS England and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, all large healthcare provider organisations are required to identify a medication safety officer (MSO). This applies to community pharmacy multiples with more than 50 registered pharmacies, as well as NHS trusts and many independent sector organisations. The MSO role should be visible within the organisation and ensure that learning from medication incidents has a high profile. And who better to take on this role than a pharmacist?

Second, as part of the same alert, these organisations have been asked to strengthen clinical governance arrangements for medication incident reporting and learning, with a multidisciplinary group identified (or created) to take action to improve medication safety locally. This provides further opportunities to raise the profile of medication safety — and of pharmacy. Both actions are required within six months of the alert. Now may be the time to consider how you can show local leadership, if you have not done so already.

Third, the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt recently announced that each NHS organisation will be invited to “Sign up to safety” and set out publicly its plans for reducing avoidable harm, including medication errors. The NHS Litigation Authority, which indemnifies NHS trusts, has agreed to reduce the premiums paid by hospitals successfully implementing their plans. So, as well as there being patient safety benefits, there is a financial incentive for organisations to take action. Since medication incidents are among the most common types of patient safety incident, pharmacists should be involved with the development of patient safety strategies for their organisations.  

However, most opportunities come with challenges, and three come immediately to mind. First, these initiatives come with no extra funding. Unless funding can be identified or bid for locally, someone is likely to have to take on the MSO role in addition to their existing job. Second, although pharmacists are clearly well placed to lead on these initiatives, we need to ensure that medication safety is not seen solely as a “pharmacy thing”, resulting in lack of engagement from nursing and medical staff. Finally, it will be a challenge to ensure that organisational patient safety strategies are seen as being relevant across all clinical areas, professional groups and staff grades, as well as to patients, and not perceived locally as tick-box exercises. We therefore need pharmacists who are strong leaders and understand both the way organisations work and medication safety issues.

Maybe I am having a day where my glass is half full rather than half empty, but I think the opportunities more than outweigh the challenges. We need to demonstrate that pharmacists can show leadership within the profession and more widely in the health service. Medication safety is big news right now — who better to take a lead than pharmacy?

Citation: Clinical Pharmacist DOI: 10.1211/CP.2014.11138728

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