Any pharmacy service should make a positive difference to the patient, says Joanne Taylor, and Vittoria Healthcare’s new palliative care emergency stock scheme is set to do just that

At Vittoria Healthcare Ltd, the care of our patients is paramount. As a local group of community pharmacies, we see generations of patients grow up, and we care for them from birth right through their childhood and hopefully into old age. Unfortunately, patients don’t have to be old to need a palliative care service and this is a sad but essential part of our role.

The provision of this type of medication at the end of a patient’s life is vital. So when our local CCG asked for participants to take part in a palliative care emergency stock scheme, Vittoria Healthcare felt the requirements for the care of these patients is crucial. The assured supply of palliative care and specialist medicines, which may be urgent and/or unpredictable, is absolutely necessary. It’s so important that patients, carers and healthcare professionals who may need these are able to access them without delay.

Essentially, the pharmacy would need to stock a locally agreed range of palliative care/emergency medicines to guarantee continuity of supply. Remuneration wasn’t great, but the needs of our patients are central to us, so we applied and the CCG accepted.

We then developed a standard operating procedure (SOP) with all the details needed for the effective running of the service. This provided information on the following points:

  • All staff are aware of the palliative care emergency medicines list and trained accordingly. This includes all relief staff and locum pharmacists
  • Stock levels as per the specified list of medicines were ordered for delivery of the service. This is in addition to any stock usually held
  • Pharmacy staff must order and ensure the selection and quantity of medicines as specified in the medicines list and dispense these against NHS prescriptions presented, meaning any dispensed or date expired stock required for this service must be replaced at once
  • Expiry dates for this stock must be checked regularly so a date checking matrix is included within the SOP. Short-dated stock must be rotated with the pharmacy’s usual stock
  • If the pharmacy can’t make a supply, for whatever reason, signpost to the nearest pharmacy participating in the service. Contact details for all local participating pharmacies are included in the SOP. The pharmacy must be telephoned first to make sure that it is able to dispense the prescription before informing the person waiting
  • Signpost to specialist centres, support groups or other health and social care professionals where appropriate
  • The palliative care medicines list and stock levels are regularly reviewed by the CCG to reflect any changes in practice, guidelines or significant stock shortages.

We were fortunate that the staff in our company were keen to be involved with this service as they realised the difference that it could make to our patients. It’s imperative that there is no delay with palliative care medication and pharmacies in the community are well placed to help with this.

Any pharmacy service should make a positive difference to the patient. This scheme will make this difference.

Have you got a similar scheme in your area? Have a look at your palliative care medicines – have you got enough stock if someone were to present at your pharmacy with a prescription for this type of medication? Do you know where to refer them to if you haven’t? Discuss this with your team and see if you too could make a positive difference to your patient care.

Joanne is a registered pharmacy technician and ACPT, and is professional standards lead at Vittoria Healthcare. She is national secretary for the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK (APTUK), and is a member of the Medicines Rebalancing Programme Board at the Department of Health as well as TM’s editorial advisory panel.

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