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Pharmacists Take a Leading Role in Managing Minor Ailments

Pharmacy Xchangeathon challenges perceptions, shares knowledge, suggests solutions


London 28 November 2018: RB hosts Pharmacy Xchangeathon to identify ways for community pharmacy to take a leading role in managing minor ailments and support the growing trend towards self-care. Led by Dr. Andrew Moore, Director of Pain Research at the Nuffield Department of Anaesthetics at the University of Oxford, the one-day ideas exchange brought together a diverse group of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, pre-registration pharmacists, pharmacy students and pharmacy practice teachers. The event aimed to provide pharmacists with the tools and information they need to make personalised, evidence-based recommendations for managing aches and pains, and created a forum for all participants to actively identify ways to place community pharmacy at the forefront of pain management.


Medical experts and policymakers agree: self-care (being any action to recognise, treat, and manage health[i]) can improve both the health of people and certain services within the NHS. This means a greater role for pharmacists. “Around 57 million GP consultations per year are for minor ailments,” said pharmacist Fin McCaul, an Xchangeathon leader. “That costs the NHS £2 billion and takes up an hour a day for every GP. But with increasing health literacy and access to technology, consumers are becoming more ‘health smart’ and proactive toward self-care. Pharmacists and their (pharmacy) staff should become the recognised experts in managing acute pain and contribute to helping patients manage their own pain.”


Despite the need for increased self-care and the potential for pharmacy staff to play a key part in this self-care journey, a survey of pharmacists and related staff in the UK revealed that nearly a third felt they had insufficient knowledge around different mechanisms of action, doses or contraindications for OTC analgesics – which might hinder their ability to recommend such medicines and/or knowledgeably speak to patients about pain management. And only around half were very confident when it came to recommending OTC analgesics for back, dental, head.[ii]


The Pharmacy Xchangeathon was designed to enable participants to not only understand relevant evidence for OTC pain relief but also to identify practical solutions to support evidence-based decision-making and to equip them to implement best practice when recommending first-line OTC relief.


Dr. Andrew Moore kicked off the meeting by discussing why it is crucial for pharmacists to have a thorough understanding of pain. Antony Chuter, Chair of Pain UK, an alliance of charities representing people in pain, shared patient perspectives of visiting their local pharmacy with minor ailments. He outlined the simple steps that can be taken to ensure patients have confidence in the pharmacist’s ability to offer support, advice and most importantly, the most appropriate treatment. Expanding on the theme of self-care, leading pharmacists Fin McCaul and Terry Maguire discussed the evolving landscape, focusing on the NHS and online environment. The discussions suggested adaptations in order for pharmacies to work in partnership with patients to provide them with the knowledge to manage everyday minor ailments themselves thus easing the pressure on GP services.


Equipped with knowledge, participants were tasked with the overarching challenge of finding ways to ensure that pharmacies seize the opportunity to lead effective first-line acute pain management services. The participants were split into three groups: Knowledge, Pharmacy, and Community. The Knowledge group explored effective ways to educate community pharmacy to change practice and challenge misconceptions. The Pharmacy group focused on how community pharmacy can promote self-care while remaining relevant in the rapidly changing retail landscape. The Community group brainstormed ideas to improve awareness of community pharmacy and to promote themselves as the first-line resource for acute pain management. Each group pitched their solutions to Andrew, Fin and Terry.


The winning entries included a:

  • Knowledge based solution called ‘Myth Busters,’ that would involve the development of a white paper supported by a panel of experts across multiple disciplines to support pain management decision making;
  • Pharmacy based solution called ‘99 Problems But Pain Ain’t One,’ involving the provision of categories and scaling of acute pain in pharmacy (e.g., toothache, migraine, back pain, etc.). This would encourage customers to consider their treatment approaches and highlight the service of pharmacists in providing guidance and supporting decision making;
  • Community based solution ‘Pharmacy United’ which would involve creating a toolkit including survey findings and bespoke feedback for pharmacists to work with local sports clubs during ‘Kick Pain Week’.


Dr. Andrew Moore concluded: “The Pharmacy Xchangeathon was a rewarding experience. My highlight was collaborating with a team of people with different backgrounds and experience than me to identify how community pharmacy can become the service of choice for minor ailments. I think that together the team developed several solutions to educate patients about the role of the pharmacy in self-care, and they identified new ways to provide the best OTC recommendations. I look forward to seeing community pharmacy evolving and strengthening its position in primary care generally, and particularly with regard to pain, which is so common, and so important.”


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Last Updated: 04-Dec-2018