Medicine risk for older Australians

A new report from the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) shows that medicine safety for older Australians is a game of Russian roulette and our most vulnerable are being put at risk every day.

PSA president Associate Professor Chris Freeman says the Medicine Safety: Aged Care report sounds an urgent alarm about the need to tackle medicine safety in aged care.

“The royal commission has shone a light on significant shortcomings in residential aged care,” Assoc. Prof. Freeman said.

“Unfortunately, our report has found we are also neglecting vulnerable older Australians when it comes to protecting them from medicine-related harms.

“One of the most shocking findings of our report is that 20 per cent of unplanned hospital admissions for aged care residents are a result of inappropriate medicines use.”

Half of all aged care residents are taking medicines that cause sedation or confusion, with 20 per cent taking antipsychotics and more than half of these residents taking these medicines for far too long.

“While medicines are meant to help patients, in many instances these types of medicines can make symptoms worse, cause excessive drowsiness and make residents more likely to experience significant injury from a fall,” Assoc. Prof. Freeman said.

“Pharmacists are medicine experts and in collaboration with other health professionals and carers can help identify and diminish the risk of medicine side-effects and harmful interactions. One way pharmacists already do this is through medication reviews.

“Currently, these can generally only be conducted once every two years. When they are, nearly all aged care residents have at least one problem with their medicines and most have three problems.”

The government has gone some way to addressing this by providing $25.5 million to improve medication management programs to reduce the use of medication as a chemical restraint on aged care residents and at home, and new restrictions and education for prescribers on the use of medication as a chemical restraint.

“The commonwealth government has recognised the need to address medicine safety and quality use of medicines and declared medicine safety as the 10th National Health Priority Area,” said Assoc. Prof. Freeman.

“This commitment needs to translate into actions and sustainable funding. When it comes to protecting older Australians, we must support pharmacists to spend more time in aged care and enable them to conduct more frequent medication reviews and follow-ups.

“Pilot programs which have embedded pharmacists in the aged care team have achieved demonstrable improvements in medicine safety and quality use of medicines.”

Jean Fry, a resident of Goodwin David Harper House, said there were many benefits in having a pharmacist in residential aged care homes.

“In my opinion, every nursing home should have its own pharmacist to help residents maintain independence and safety regarding their medications,” Ms Fry said.

Peter Heaume, the son and representative of parents Jane and Ern who are aged care residents, said it was invaluable having a pharmacist take the time to explain each drug and its purpose to him.

“It gave me confidence that I could make an informed decision, and both understand and agree to the changes proposed. I found it very informative and also beneficial,” he said.

Pharmacists in aged care can provide training and advice on medicines to support others involved in the care of residents.

“Aged care staff, trying to do the right thing, often alter medicines,” said Assoc. Prof. Freeman. “For example, if a resident finds it difficult to swallow, they may crush a medicine, not realising this can negatively impact its efficacy.”

PSA has a 10-point plan to protect older Australians from medicine harm and is calling on the commonwealth to implement these recommendations in order to keep aged care residents safe.

“Pharmacists are key to improving the quality and safe use of medicines in aged care. We look forward to working with the government, the aged care sector, other healthcare professionals, residents and families to improve this untenable situation,” Assoc. Prof. Freeman said.

Should there be more access to pharmacists in aged care homes?

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