Our medicines optimisation working group

The Taskforce medicines optimisation working group was set up to drive forward Taskforce recommendations around ensuring that people diagnosed with lung disease are getting the best medicines and getting the best use out of them.

The group has a wide membership of patient representatives, professional bodies, patients, organisations and industry partners. The group’s chairs can be found on our about page.

As a group, we are currently working on three main areas of work, which were identified as priorities in the Taskforce’s five-year plan. These are:  

  • Improving inhaled therapy by making sure patients and health care professionals are well versed in inhaler technique best practise

  • Increasing awareness of community pharmacists and their role of reviewing medications, prescriptions and the wellbeing of patients

  • Working to ensure the right people have access to the right medication for their specific respiratory conditions, such as antifibrotic drugs for people with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

Improving understanding of correct inhaler technique

 Inhalers are a vital part of treating COPD and asthma but there are significant problems with their use. We know that many people make errors when using their inhaler devices which puts them at risk, and that overuse of SABA inhalers in particular has been linked to asthma deaths. Currently, too few people receive an annual inhaler technique check, which means that they are at risk of their condition getting worse.

It is vital that all relevant health care professionals are trained and always up to date in inhaler technique so they can coach their patients effectively. Evidence suggests that this is not currently the case, with many practitioners lacking the confidence to support patients. We have been working with the UK Inhaler Group to review and disseminate Inhaler Standards and Competency Document, and are working on signposting healthcare professionals to useful and accurate resources, such as the Asthma UK inhaler technique videos, which were selected as illustrating best practice in an audit conducted by the Taskforce.

There is a limited amount of data about which areas of the country are most at risk from a lack of inhaler technique checks. We are looking into producing a map of annual inhaler technique checks in primary care to assess which areas need the most support, as well as a map that illustrates areas where there is overreliance on SABA inhalers.

 Promoting the role of community pharmacists

More than 1.6 million people visit a community pharmacy each day, providing a huge opportunity to pick up on warning signs for lung disease, which can then be assessed by GPs.

Pharmacists are in a good position to talk to people about their wider lung health when they visit the pharmacy for stop smoking services or flu vaccinations. Crucially, Medicines Use Reviews (MURs) could offer an opportunity for pharmacists to identify people not responding to medicines, and those on frequent courses of antibiotics and corticosteroids with no confirmed diagnosis.

As a group, we are working on promoting the role of the pharmacist in the community, making the case to NHS England that community pharmacists are well placed to offer medicines reviews.

We are working in conjunction with NHS England to explore what patients want from community pharmacy services and how we can achieve this in future.

Improving access to appropriate drugs for specific respiratory conditions

As a group, we have made improving access to life-changing drugs for respiratory patients a priority. We have been working to improve access to antifibrotic drugs for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) modulators for cystic fibrosis, and monoclonal antibodies for severe asthma.

After successful and sustained campaigning by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, a Taskforce member, we are delighted that in October 2019, NHS England announced they have approved access to precision drugs for people with cystic fibrosis. Another Taskforce member, Asthma UK, is leading on ensuring an increase in the number of appropriate severe asthma referrals to specialist centres, as measured and reported by severe asthma multi-disciplinary teams.

The Taskforce is collaborating with member Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis on making sure that prescribing criteria for antifibrotic drugs change in NICE guidelines to match European patient eligibility. We have written a joint letter to NICE and are supporting Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis in their efforts to change the guidelines where we can.