Millions jeopardise their health by ignoring medicines advice

07 Nov 2018

Almost half of all patients believe the risks associated with common medicines are exaggerated and many put themselves in danger by ignoring professional advice, according to new research.

The new survey, by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), also shows that some people are irritated by the medicines safety protocols in pharmacies and are prepared to fib in order to get around them.


A previous 2018 study¹ found at least 6% of emergency re-admissions to hospital are caused by Adverse Drug Reactions (ADRs). The estimated cost to the NHS of definitely avoidable ADRs is £98.5million per year.


The NPA’s Director of Pharmacy, Leyla Hannbeck, says that talking frankly with a local pharmacist is the best way to understand the risks and benefits of medicines and avoid harm.


She said: “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.


“If you aren’t satisfied with the advice given in the pharmacy, feel free to challenge it. A good pharmacist will not be offended and should welcome the opportunity to reassure you, to clarify, or to discuss alternatives.”


The new survey², carried out online in September 2018 but published today (NOV 7), reveals:


  • Almost half (41%) of people believe that the information leaflets provided in medicines boxes exaggerate the risks of side effects; Only 32% always read the leaflet
  • 27% say they would buy a medicine from elsewhere (e.g. a supermarket or garage) even after a pharmacist has advised the medicine is inappropriate for them
  • 40% say they are sometimes irritated when counter staff ask safety-related questions before they will hand over a medicine; 15% of people have fibbed about their health to a member of staff in a pharmacy in order to get hold a medicine
  • More than half (52%) do not feel comfortable challenging advice given to them by a doctor; 43% are uncomfortable challenging a pharmacist’s advice
  • 16% have at least once collected prescription medicines without any intention of using them – rather than raise their doubts with the doctor or pharmacist.


Nevertheless, nearly nine in ten people (87%) agree that “talking with my pharmacist will help me get the most from my medicines and reduce my risk of harm”.


Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association said: “Having a good understanding of how their medicines work helps patients take an active role in their own care.


“Patients should give full and clear information to their pharmacist and be supported to demand full and clear advice in return.”


During Ask Your Pharmacist Week (5-12 November), thousands of pharmacies are distributing leaflets highlighting the risks of taking medicines inappropriately.  These can include painful side effects, addiction and even death.