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What is 
Open up about medicines?

Open up about medicines is a groundbreaking communications campaign in which we focus on our patients as the people who can take responsibility for their medicines. The campaign encourages patients to ‘open up’ about their actual need for and use of prescription medicines when they talk to health professionals. We need people to ‘open up’ about their medicines to their GP, at their pharmacy and if they go into hospital. We believe that if we empower our patients to do this, professionals can improve medicines safety and that, in turn, we can reduce medicines waste in Southampton.

The Open up campaign started life as a project between Southampton City CCG and the Centre for Information Design Research at the University of Reading. Together we have developed communication materials that explain to patients how they can take charge of their medicines. The project has been funded using monies from an NHS innovation prize. It is linked to the medicines optimisation work streams of the Wessex and Oxford Academic Health Science Networks whose role is to ensure research feeds into improvement in health service practice.

Why Open up about medicines?

In the NHS we are aware that some patients don’t want to take all the medicines their doctors prescribe for them. Sometimes people continue ordering and collecting them because they worry about appearing not to take them and about telling a health care professional how they feel. Some people become confused by the number of medicines that are prescribed for them, the systems of ordering and collection at their chosen pharmacy and what to do when they need to go into hospital. This can lead to some medicines never being used and later being wasted.

Unused medicines cost the NHS millions of pounds (the annual cost was estimated at £300 million in 2010, of which £150 million was estimated as avoidable).* In Southampton this equates to approximately £1 million.

In Southampton CCG we are committed to making sure that our patients get the best possible treatment. Preventing medicines waste is critical to this commitment and so we have developed the Open up about medicines campaign.

This campaign follows previous initiatives in Southampton with the aim of reducing medicines waste but is different in that the Open up messages have been developed by patients for patients, with health professional input and a commitment to make a real change.

How the Open up campaign was developed

The campaign materials were developed through consultation meetings with patients, GPs and pharmacists. These meetings, firstly, examined how communication between patients and professionals about medicines could be improved. Follow up meetings were then used for review and comments on different communication approaches. Patients’ and professionals’ views fed into the detailed design of the campaign.

Before launching the Open up campaign we ran a questionnaire survey of patients and GPs to gather their experience of talking about medicines and, particularly, patients’ awareness of what they could do to reduce medicines waste. During the campaign we’ll be working with GPs and pharmacists to ensure that the Open up messages become part of everyday life and that patients do indeed begin to feel empowered to take charge. We will repeat the patient questionnaire after the campaign launch to see if there has been any change in patients’ understanding and confidence that they can take charge of their medicines. Even after this we intend to make use of the Open up messages to support patients to continue being ‘open’ about their medicine taking.

What next?

We plan to use the research from this campaign to demonstrate how patient involvement in health service development can yield positive outcomes. If Open up is successful in raising awareness and changing patients’ behaviours we anticipate that it will be used across the Oxford and Wessex regions. Other regions in the NHS will also be able to draw on the learning from the campaign and we will publish an account of its development in health research journals so that it reaches a wide audience. We will also keep looking at other ways of reducing medicines waste through further demonstration projects which, like this one, may be extended to other health regions.

* Protecting resources, promoting value Report of the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, November 2014 
About the Open up about medicines campaign