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Addressing the Polypharmacy Challenge in Older People

The Polypharmacy Challenge Blog

Boots: Pharmacists under pressure?

One of our research participants alerted us to this programme recently screened on BBC One as part of its ‘real-life stories and investigations’ TV series, Inside Out. This programme was timely for us as we’re currently undertaking fieldwork in pharmacies.

The programme focuses on three tragic cases where patients died after being given medicines prescribed for another patient.

It then set out to make a link between dispensing errors and staff shortages. There was a particular focus on Boots’ unwillingness to disclose information about the model it uses to calculate appropriate staffing levels – this being identified as a ‘trade secret’ and summoning up a sense of suspicion.

The documentary has been criticised for singling out Boots, when staffing pressures are an industry-wide concern, for not paying enough attention to the recent funding cuts for community pharmacies in England and for the programme’s potential to damage public trust in local pharmacies. Medicines dispensing in the UK for the majority is very safe and fatal dispensing errors are very rare occurrences.

I took away a few themes from the programme that reflect some of what we are observing in our fieldwork. As an outsider, with no previous knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes in a pharmacy, I have been struck by:

  • the sheer volume of work and high level of concentration that is required to safely dispense medicines to a growing, increasingly older, population who are being prescribed more and more medicines
  • the dedication and commitment to patient safety and providing a quality service with which pharmacy staff undertake their work
  • and the confidence and trust that patients have in their local pharmacist and pharmacy staff.

Boots: Pharmacists under pressure? First shown on BBC One on January 8th 2018 at 7.30pm. Available on BBC iplayer until 13 February 2018.

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