Two Sunderland Masters students have been awarded national funding for pharmaceutical research projects which could help save money and take pressures away from overstretched frontline health services.

Discovering the reasons why patients throw away millions of unused medicines each year, and the impact of a scheme which refers patients from their local GP to a community pharmacists depending on symptoms, are University of Sunderland-based projects which have secured funding from Pharmacy Research UK (PRUK).

Tarirai Moyo, a community pharmacist in Teesside and part-time teacher practitioner at the University, was interested in pharmaceutical waste, why patients throw their medicines away, what type of medicines go unused from prescription to over the counter and where are they being disposed of?

A report by the Department of Health estimates that unused medicines cost the NHS around £300 million every year, with an estimated £110 million worth of medicine returned to pharmacies, £90 million worth of unused prescriptions being stored in homes and £50 million worth of medicines disposed of by Care Homes.

She hopes the results from her Masters project will help educate people, improve their health prospects by taking medicines correctly and further support initiatives already in place by local pharmacies encouraging patients to drop off their unused medicines in for proper disposal.

The research will initially focus on pharmacies around the Middlesbrough area over the next year, Tarirai explained: “Pharmaceutical waste is an accepted problem within the NHS and there are a number of initiatives nationally attempting to tackle the issue.

“The cost also to patients’ health if medicines are not being correctly taken or left unused could lead to worsening symptoms and extra treatments, which might have otherwise been avoided.

“I want to find out what sort of medicines are thrown away the most, then find out why people might feel that they don’t want or need those particular medicines.

“People will bring some back to pharmacy for correct disposal, but then admit they’ve thrown some in the bin.

“Hopefully the research will help educate people as to why they are taking the medicines and help prescribers managed drugs better, reducing waste and hopefully improve cost implications on the NHS,” added mum-of-three Tarirai, who has been a community pharmacist in the UK for 17 years, after moving here from Zimbabwe, where she worked for eight years as a pharmacist.

Meanwhile Sunderland MPharm graduate Alex Moore will simultaneously begin evaluating the impact of a pilot scheme in South Tyneside, GP2Pharmacy, which gives patients the option to see a pharmacist the same or following day when they call their local practice to book an appointment with their GP. Under the initiative, patients calling their GP surgery are assessed by a receptionist and, depending on their symptoms, booked into a fixed appointment time at a pharmacy of their choice.

Patients can be referred to a pharmacist if they have a condition that falls under the locally commissioned minor ailment scheme, including coughs, colds and skin conditions such as eczema, impetigo and psoriasis.

Alex, 25, will draw on his experience as a community pharmacist in Whickham, part-time work in a GP surgery on behalf of the North Durham Clinical Commissioning Group and teaching commitments at the university.

He explained: “This will be the first full evaluation of the services, which aims to assess its impact, see if people think it’s been beneficial and for its intended purpose, which is to relieve the pressures on GP surgeries.

“I’ll be analysing quantitative data from the age of patients, to what products are supplied, the reasons why they have been referred, as well as interviews with focus groups involved in the scheme.

“This will assess the impact of the service which would hopefully be rolled out to other areas of the UK.”

Andrew Sturrock, Principal Lecturer in Pharmacy, said: “We are delighted that both Alex and Tarirai have separately received funding to undertake exciting research projects as part of their MSc study.

“Both projects are looking at highly relevant areas of practice, that have real potential to make positive contributions to patient care and to the National Health Service.

“As an institution we are proud to continue our successful relationship with Pharmacy Research UK who have funded a number of research projects at the University over the past few years. This continued support will help to further develop the research capacity in the region’s pharmacy workforce.”

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