Optimising Safe and Appropriate Medicines

An evaluation of the role of community pharmacists in optimising safe and appropriate medicines use in response to patient requests for emergency supplies

  • NW Primary Care Pharmacy Research Group; Chief Investigator: Dr Charles Morecroft

Aims & Objectives

This study will evaluate the role of community pharmacists in responding to patient requests for emergency supplies of their prescription medicines. The study aims:

  1. To describe emergency supply activity regarding:
    • the frequency and type of requests;
    • the views of service users and service providers, alongside other stakeholders, including general practitioners;
  2. To report on how this convenient, patient-focused service forms an integral component of health and social care provision;
  3. To enhance community pharmacists’ involvement in, and experience of, research.


Medicines legislation lays down provisions for the emergency supply of prescription-only medicines when no prescription is presented. Emergency supply is a means by which pharmacists are able to assist patients out of hours, or when they are away from home, to ensure that their supplies of medicines are not disrupted. The provision of this service can cause dilemmas, as pharmacists are obliged by law to ensure there is an ‘immediate need’ for the requested medicine, whilst simultaneously considering the well-being of the patient and the consequences of not supplying.

The emergency supply service is an ‘invisible’ system to the wider health service, but is indispensable to patients and carers. There has been limited research in this area, but it is known that the service is provided on a regular basis by many community pharmacies. A pilot study carried out in March 2012 found high levels of requests, with participating pharmacists recording an average of five requests per pharmacy in one week.


The study will proceed in five phases. Phase one will involve the documenting of the emergency supply of prescribed medicines to patients over two four-week periods. In phase two, 2-3 volunteers from the community pharmacist cohort will conduct telephone interviews with the other pharmacists, to review the incidence of dilemmas and concerns that have arisen in the emergency supply of medicines. The patient perspective will be explored in phase three, through telephone interviews with patients who have requested an emergency supply of prescribed medication from pharmacists involved in the study. Phase four involves the community pharmacists from phase one presenting their interim study findings to their local general practice team, and obtaining their views of the emergency supply service.

Outputs of research

The final phase of the project involves a workshop session to present the headline findings of the whole study to the wider stakeholder community. The workshop will facilitate reflection upon, and formalising, the integration of the emergency supply service into established health and social care provision, and a consideration of the wider implications for policy and practice. The results from this study will also be disseminated to the wider research and practice community through a final report, academic articles, and the provision of educational and support materials to community pharmacists.