Messages from the Medicine Safety Forum

As the custodians of medicine safety, promoting the judicious, quality and safe use of medicines is key to pharmacists’ roles. But it is also important to work with other health professionals to improve outcomes for all Australians.

At the Medicine Safety Forum held in Canberra on Monday, leaders from the health sector, government, academia and members of the public came together to discuss medicine safety.

It was an opportunity to build on the momentum generated by medicine safety and the quality use of medicines being named the 10th National Health Priority Area last month.

Attendees included Painaustralia CEO Carol Bennett, who said the forum provided a good starting point for a conversation about the safe, quality use of medicines as part of Australia’s national health policy.

As participants discussed, a focus on the regulation of medicines in isolation, including their cost and availability, is not in the best interests of consumers, who also need support with non-pharmacological strategies to manage their conditions.

Ms Bennett was positive about discussion that allowed key health bodies to build on the National Medicines Policy to formulate links to wider health policy, acknowledging that the quality use of medicines is just one component.

‘We need to get the balance right,’ she told Australian Pharmacist.

Different perspectives from a range of stakeholders were welcomed by Ms Bennett. In particular, she was pleased to see consumers included in the forum, as consumer bodies have been petitioning for. Responding to the needs of the consumer is essential to ‘produce policy in the context of people’s lived experience,’ she said.

The people’s perspective

Consumers Health Forum CEO Leanne Wells asked attendees to ‘think differently’ to improve medicine safety. This includes improving medicines literacy and providing fit-for-purpose information.

Consumer representative Jen Morris said she was heartened by this discussion.

‘I think it’s inevitable that any plan or process for trying to improve the healthcare system requires cooperation and understanding between all parties involved – including consumers,’ Ms Morris told AP.

‘It was encouraging to see people recognising the value of consumers and the importance of working together to contribute to medicine safety efforts.’

Ms Morris has been a consumer representative for 12 years and said she is passionate about improving the quality of care for all Australians.

She has seen the discussion around medicine safety shift over the past decade.

‘People are now putting consumers and patients at the centre of the conversation and accept that the consumer perspective needs to be considered,’ she said.

‘Myself and the other consumers at the forum weren’t the only people in the room bringing this up – healthcare professionals were doing it themselves. This didn’t use to happen.’

Collaborative care

Australian College of Nursing Research and Government Relationships Officer Dr Lexie Brans said attendees at the forum had a desire to do things differently.

‘There was a real commitment to changing the current systems and processes surrounding the quality use of medicines for the benefit of patients and to do so using existing resources more innovatively,’ she told AP.

‘It was also heartening to hear of the genuine commitment to working collaboratively with all health care practitioners and respecting the contribution of the different roles of different practitioners.’

Ms Brans said more collaboration is needed between all areas of the health sector to further improve outcomes.

‘This is crucial if medicines are to be used safely, effectively and wisely, not only by health care practitioners but also by consumers (the harms of the so-called “wellness” industry for instance) or consumers as patients,’ she said.

Kate Reed, Nurse Practitioner National Clinical Advisor at Palliative Care Australia, echoed this, stating that improving medicine safety relies on healthcare teams supporting each other using their different skills, knowledge and expertise.

‘Patients are at the centre of our care, and the only way we can ensure safety in medication management is through collaboration to reduce the chance of patients being managed ineffectively or placed at risk,’ she told AP.

For palliative care patients, this includes a risk of underprescribing due to a lack of understanding or a concern about adverse outcomes.

‘Palliative care patients are also particularly vulnerable to polypharmacy issues,’ Ms Reed said.

‘Patients who are under the care of specialist palliative care teams may also be on medications prescribed off-label to provide complex symptoms management. Such plans may not be familiar to other members of the healthcare team.’

She said nurses can play an important role in educating patients about their medication management.

‘In the community, it is essential that this involves the community pharmacist where possible,’ Ms Reed said.

‘[In palliative care] it is often nurses who will pick up management issues such as confusion or dysphagia and will be able to initiate conversations … about changes to the management plan to ensure that the patient’s safety and goals of care are maintained throughout their illness progression and in end-of-life care.’