Care home residents have been found to benefit from having a specialist pharmacist based within the care home itself, according to a new study.

When a pharmacist was installed in a care home, residents were more likely to be prescribed the correct medicine and taken off unnecessary medication, reducing the potential harm to patients from treatments.

In addition, better relationships between GPs, care home staff, and patients were also developed.

The findings are the culmination of six years of work involving researchers from the University of Leeds, the University of Aberdeen, Queen’s University Belfast, the University of East Anglia and NHS Norfolk Waveney and Norwich Clinical Trials and are published in the BMJ.

According to the researchers, care home residents are routinely prescribed an average of eight or more medicines, and 70% of patients experience daily drug errors. Medicine use is considered one of the main risk areas in care homes by the government and regulatory organisations.

The research was part of the Care Home Independent Pharmacist Prescriber Study (CHIPPS), in which 25 pharmacist prescribers were integrated into care homes to improve medicines management and safety across 49 care homes in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The study monitored pharmacist activities and reviewed unexpected resident deaths and hospitalisations. The findings showed no safety concerns in embedding a pharmacist into care homes.

Potential future harm from medicines was significantly reduced. The pharmacists could stop medications that were no longer needed or appropriate, helping residents and likely preventing future side effects.

Through interviews with GPs, care home managers, carers and residents, the researchers established that all participants were highly satisfied with the service provided by the pharmacist independent prescribers within the care homes.

The intervention appeared most effective when the pharmacists were embedded within their local general practice and led to a reduction of GP workloads since pharmacist prescribers assumed responsibility for medicine reviews and repeat prescriptions.

Professor David Alldred, from the University of Leeds, said: ‘Older people living in care homes have complex health needs and are usually prescribed multiple medicines. Our large-scale, high-quality study has shown that specially qualified prescribing pharmacists can safely prescribe for care home residents to ensure they are on the right combination of medicines.

He added: ‘Key to success was the pharmacists building relationships and working in partnership with GPs, care home staff and residents.’

The researchers state that the study provides significant evidence for developing care models in care homes which include pharmacist independent prescribers.

Professor David Wright from the University of Leicester added: ‘The results support the expansion of the current pharmacist role in care homes, to include prescribing and frequent visits, as it reduces future harm from medicines and helps care homes to improve their management of medicines.’

Read our interview with Sukhy Somal – superintendent pharmacist, manager and co-owner of PharmaCare Pharmacy in Walsall – about running a care homes and palliative care medicines service.