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Addressing the Polypharmacy Challenge in Older People

The Polypharmacy Challenge Blog


Doing safety in a community pharmacy

Deborah and I have been on our travels again, this time to Manchester to attend the Prescribing and Research in Medicines Management (PRIMM) annual conference. The theme of this year’s meeting was ‘Medication without Harm – WHO is Responsible’. The conference centred on the WHO’s 3rd Global Patient Safety Challenge: Medication without Harm, with the global goal of reducing severe, avoidable medication-related harm by 50% by 2022. The goal focuses on three key action areas: polypharmacy, high-risk situations and transitions of care.

We were pleased to see some presenters at the conference acknowledging the work that patients do in situations of polypharmacy, including Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, who gave the welcome keynote. Burnham attibuted the problem with the current polypharmacy crisis to prescribing which "sees the patient not the person" and that we need to realise that "health is not built in the health service – it is built in homes, communities…" and to think about "judicious prescribing within a social model of support."


We were there to present our work from the APOLLO-MM project on safety practices in community pharmacies. We have spent over 140 hours in four community pharmacies observing how staff dispense prescriptions and make up dosette boxes. We have been fascinated at the way in which staff approach their work, and the different ways in which they work together to ensure safety in this environment.

We were delighted to win the poster presentation prize and to be given the opportunity to showcase our research on what happens behind the scenes in four independent community pharmacies. The hard-work, dedication and care with which pharmacists, technicians, dispensers and counter staff do their jobs to ensure medicines are dispensed safely largely goes unrecognised.

This was particularly highlighted by a recent incident on This Morning (a UK daytime magazine TV show). On Friday 17th January, whilst the PRIMM conference was in full flow, a broadcaster on This Morning reportedly described pharmacists as “pretend doctors” whose only job was to “collect the box of pills behind them”. Our ethnographic work certainly suggests that this description could not be further from the reality of the busy high street pharmacy.


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