Almost half of patients argued that the side effects of common medicines are ‘exaggerated’, research has revealed.

A study published today (7 November) by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) showed that 41% out of 1047 respondents think that the medicine-related risks laid out in leaflets are ‘exaggerated’, with only 32% reading guidance before using a drug.

This comes as the annual Ask Your Pharmacist week kicked off on Monday (5 November). During this week, the campaign sees thousands of pharmacies highlighting the risks of taking medicines inappropriately through advice and leaflets.


Ignoring pharmacists' advice


The survey also found that 27% of respondents would still source a medicine from outside a pharmacy – such as a supermarket or a garage – even after being told by the pharmacist that it is not appropriate for them.

NPA’s director of pharmacy Leyla Hannbeck said that patients should have an honest conversation with their pharmacist ‘to understand the risks and benefits of medicines and avoid harm’.

She added: ‘If used inappropriately, medicines have the power to harm as well as to heal, even medicines you can pick up from a supermarket shelf or a pound shop.

‘So it’s important to take professional advice, and in particular to have a full and frank dialogue with your local pharmacist.

‘Answer any questions asked by pharmacy staff accurately and fully, so that the pharmacist can be sure that the medicine is safe for you and that your symptoms don’t indicate a serious underlying health problem.’


Economic burden


The Economic Evaluation of Health and Care Interventions (EPPRU) – a partnership between the universities of Sheffield and York – estimated that adverse drug reactions (ADRs) cause 712 deaths and contribute to 1,708 deaths a year, costing the NHS £98.5m.

The NPA’s survey pointed out that nine in 10 patients (87%) agreed that talking with a pharmacist can help them get the most of their medicines and reduce the risk of harm. However, it showed that 16% of the respondents have not taken their prescribed medicines at least once after failing to raise doubts with a pharmacist or a doctor.

Ms Hannbeck said that patients should feel free to challenge advice given in the pharmacy.

‘A good pharmacist will not be offended and should welcome the opportunity to reassure you, to clarify, or to discuss alternatives,’ she commented.