The Pharmacist spoke to Nathan Davies, principal investigator on a University College London study, about his research into how primary care pharmacists can support patients with dementia and their carers.

Tell us about why you are doing this research?

There has been an increase in pharmacists working in general practice and for the PCN, but also in care homes as well. But the role is still not very clear as to what they do.

For a lot of them, it depends on the individual PCN or the individual practice as to what services they do and how they fit in with the practice.

We were really interested in that because a lot of older people have a lot of different conditions. They'll have a lot of polypharmacy. So, there's a huge role there for pharmacists in primary care.

But we also know that there are increasing numbers of people with dementia, and people with dementia have got high needs. [They are likely to be] older, have lots of different conditions and polypharmacy.

And there will be challenges with people with dementia. For instance, in consultations, lack of communication abilities, lack of capacity.

So, we were really interested to know what is happening and ask: how can this fairly new pharmacist role in primary care support people with dementia?

What have you found so far?

It is very early days. We’re doing a survey [which is about to wrap up at the end of this week] of clinical pharmacists working in primary care: whether that's the PCN, an individual practice or through a care home.

And we've asked them: What is your role? What are you doing? Who are you employed by?

What services do you provide to older people? What services do you provide to people with dementia? Do you actually see people with dementia? And if you do see people with dementia, how many of them do you see on average?

And then we've asked them about whether they have training in dementia and if they'd want more training. And, if they did want more training, what would that look like?

And what we’ve found so far is that the majority will see dementia, because it's a high proportion of patients. And the majority of [clinical pharmacists] do want more training on that – things like communication aspects, how to engage people with dementia.

Then following from that, we're also interviewing the pharmacists themselves to drill down from what the survey is telling us and get some more detail and explanation as to what is going at a grassroots level, and what they would like to see happen in this field in the future.

We're also speaking to people living with dementia themselves, and family and carers, to understand what their experiences have been.

And then the last bit that we’re going to work on is we want to really develop a research agenda in this field. So, what do people think is needed and important to look at in future research in this area, specifically dementia and pharmacists in primary care, but probably more broadly, older adults as well.

We want to host some workshops later this year where we present what we have found, and then get experts – from a pharmacist working on the ground and other professionals working in primary care, to family, carers and people with dementia – and get them into these workshops and do some priority setting to say: these are the key areas that we need to know more about. This is what needs to be done for support. This is how we deliver it.

We want to provide a bit of a priority list of research, but also a priority list of policy. We hope to be able to produce a bit of a policy brief at the end of this to outline what's happening at the moment and how this could look in the future to maximise the benefit of pharmacists in primary care.

We’re also developing a primary care clinical pharmacist network at the moment. Anyone who's interested in this field can join that to really develop a bit of a network and a community in this area. We know that pharmacists traditionally haven't been included in research as much as they should be, especially these types of studies. So what we want to do is create a bit of a network and a bit of a way of engaging and working with pharmacists who are often not included.

For more information about the network or to join, contact Dr Abi Woodward: [email protected]

To share your experience of working as a clinical pharmacist in primary care – whether you work with patients with dementia or not – take part in UCL’s short 15 minute survey before it closes at the end of this week, or contact Dr Abi Woodward for further information.

And if you’re a clinical pharmacist working in primary care who could speak to the team for up to an hour about the services you currently provide, what ideas for support and services you have and what support and training you need to do this, get in touch with Dr Abi Woodward.