New programme to improve how medicines are used

Women takes variety of medication

Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) has awarded Prof Sir Munir Pirmohamed, Professor of Pharmacology & Therapeutics at the University of Liverpool and Professor Elizabeth Sapey, from the University of Birmingham £5million funding to deliver a national programme of research to better understand and improve the use of medicines in acute and chronic health care.

The recently launched Medicines in Acute and Chronic Care programme will run over the next 5 years and is intended to look at medication use in all age groups. It will place particular emphasis on patients with complex care needs caused by multiple long-term conditions, and on addressing health inequalities in medicines use. The programme aims to improve patient outcomes by learning from large and complex health data sets, with a view to developing and embedding new and updated guidance around medication management. And this will not only benefit the UK – the researchers will collaborate with global partners to ensure the updated guidance is considered around the world.

The Medicines in Acute and Chronic Care programme is one of five UK-wide research driver programmes designed by HDR UK to harness the power of whole population health data to tackle some of the largest health challenges. Each programme will focus on an area where data science has great potential to improve public health, preventing people from becoming unwell, and enhance patient care.

The programme is being jointly led by Professor Elizabeth Sapey, who is Director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, Director of PIONEER the Health Data Research Hub for Acute Care, as well as an Honorary Consultant at the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, alongside Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed from University of Liverpool, who is an Honorary Consultant at Liverpool University Hospital Foundation NHS Trust.  It includes researchers from the universities of Dundee, Strathclyde, Manchester, Swansea, Leeds, Leicester and Bristol, as well as Liverpool and Birmingham.

Professor Pirmohamed said: “We want to tackle the big issues which are impacting the lives of patients in primary and secondary care.  Using large data assets to derive knowledge which can lead to actions to improve prescribing will be a key focus of the driver programme.  We will work closely with the NHS, and with NICE and MHRA, to ensure that we can make an impact, not only at an individual patient level, but also at a national level by influencing policy.”

Professor Elizabeth Sapey added: “The programme is a real collaborative effort, bringing together experts from across the UK who will use patient data to shine a light on previously unknown adverse effects and drug interactions as well as identifying patients most at risk of negative outcomes associated with polypharmacy – taking lots of different medications. Rather than the research being conducted in a disease specific manner, it will cut across many conditions and give the big picture of how prescribing can have beneficial and negative consequences on health, as well as building tools to ensure medicines use is safer for patients.”

There will be a particular focus on those at highest risk from the adverse outcomes of polypharmacy including older adults, those with mental health conditions and during pregnancy. There will also be special attention on healthcare environments with the highest error rates. For example, previous studies suggest that half of patients undergoing transition of care from the community to hospital will experience an error with their medication. This large-scale data programme will help us to understand these pinch points better and create solutions to solve them.

Advances in medical care mean that people are living longer with multiple health conditions and medicines are important way to try to keep these medical conditions under control.  Polypharmacy, where one person takes lots of medicines, is common, especially in older adults. Polypharmacy can lead to problems, as drug can often interact causing negative effects, and some people experience side effects from their medications. Prescribing errors and mistakes with medicines are also common, especially when people are taking several different medications.