Elevating research within pharmacy

A pick of the research papers presented at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s (RPS’s) 2023 annual conference from Parastou Donyai, chief scientist at the RPS.

My blog this month focuses on the winning abstracts presented at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s (RPS’s) annual conference on 10 November 2023, an event held both online and in person in London. There are four RPS conference poster prizes in total — first, second and third place winners, as well as best poster by an early-career researcher — adjudicated on the day by a panel of judges. As I mentioned in the foreword for the accompanying December 2023 issue of the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice (IJPP), it is wonderful to see the conference re-establishing itself as an annual event following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This year’s theme was ‘Working together: empowering the workforce to transform patient care’. Of course, with 70 abstracts submitted as entries to the conference awards, all the authors could be considered winners in their own right in conducting pharmacy-relevant research and bringing it to the attention of others. While the posters and the authors’ verbalisation of their work formed a large component of the adjudication process, my aim here is to examine the text of the winning abstracts, all of which were published in IJPP on 30 November 2023, and how they shed light on the conference theme: working together to transform patient care. 

Sally-Anne Francis, research Fellow at the University College London Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Department, and colleagues were overall winners for their abstract entitled ‘A model of intended and ideal prescribing and medication use in symptom control in palliative care: an international scoping review’. As the title suggests, this was a review of the existing literature. What I found particularly interesting about this work was the authors’ proposed next steps, which were to test the model formed against real-life practice to build a relevant and workable map of medication management within adult palliative care. The best research, after all, is surely that which can lead to further progress and development within the field. As to how the abstract deals with the conference theme, the authors point to essential cross-boundary practices unearthed, such as working with carers and those providing out-of-hours services, which will no doubt be further explored in their forthcoming evaluation. 

Second place went to Liam Bastian, lead pharmacist for digital medicines at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, and colleagues. I was impressed to find Bastian’s name on no less than 5 of the 70 submitted abstracts. He is first author for an abstract entitled ‘A cross-sectional study of hospital pharmacists communicating medication changes at discharge’, and also co-author in a study evaluating simvastatin and CYP3A4-inhibitor interactions, a study examining surveillance reports to identify duplicate anticoagulant prescribing, an evaluation of an advanced electronic signature system implemented for managing homecare prescriptions, as well as a comparison of allergy recording within general practice and hospital clinical systems. I make two observations here: first, that Bastian’s involvement in this breadth of work with colleagues is in itself a demonstration of working together to transform patient care. Second, that staff members at the pharmacy department at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust surely ought to also be acknowledged and congratulated for facilitating the fruition and dissemination of these works. 

Avril Tucker, principal pharmacist for antimicrobials and immunology at Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, was awarded third place for an abstract entitled ‘UTI Friday: the review of antibiotic prophylaxis for recurrent urinary tract infection (rUTI) in primary care’. An audit in essence, the broad aim of the work was to assess practices in relation to rUTI management in primary care to identify opportunities for improved antimicrobial stewardship. This is a great example of an initial smaller audit leading to wider application. As Tucker explains, the preliminary work led to the refinement of the audit and its inclusion within a range of other quality improvement projects as part of the Welsh General Medical Services (GMS) 2019/2020 contract, which remained in place until 2022 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. This larger rollout is reported to have identified 431 patients on antibiotic prophylaxis for rUTI, with 51% of the cases reviewed leading to the discontinuation of the antibiotics. This is then estimated to have resulted in 2,223 fewer antibiotic prescriptions being issued per year. The project is a triumph — a perfect illustration of how working together can lead to better practices, especially on antimicrobial stewardship, a topic of huge international importance.

The prize for ‘Best poster by an early-career researcher’ was awarded to Owain Williams, post-registration foundation pharmacist, Morriston Hospital, Swansea, for an abstract entitled ‘An audit of oral antimicrobial therapy against acne vulgaris NICE [National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] guidelines’. As the title suggests, audit methodology was used, with a focus on the choice and duration of treatment in women of childbearing age. Prescribing records within a single general practice setting of 25,000 patients were accessed and repeat prescriptions of lymecycline or doxycycline for acne vulgaris in a 12-month period identified and compared against the audit criteria, constructed using the latest guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Remarkably, out of 102 eligible records, only 10 patients were identified to be on the correct oral and topical therapy aligned with NICE guidance. As the authors note, of course further work is needed to address the limitations associated with this being a retrospective audit. Nonetheless, I was delighted to see this written and presented at the conference, to showcase work by early-career researchers.

Last but by no means least, The Pharmaceutical Journal and RPS’s inaugural ‘Outstanding Pharmacy Early-career Researcher Award’ (OPERA) 2023 was presented at the annual conference, given this year to Stephen Kelly, a lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast School of Pharmacy. The title of his presentation was ‘Exploring microbiomes to improve human health: reflections of an early-career research pharmacist’. As the deadline for OPERA 2024 nears, I ask readers to help us find the next set of exceptional early-career researchers so that we can recognise their significant contributions to the field of pharmacy in 2024. This year’s shortlisted candidates will once again each be profiled by The Pharmaceutical Journal. The overall winner of the 2024 award, as well as again being invited to present their work at a future RPS event, will also receive a glass trophy and formal certificate. 

I hope that readers are inspired by this hub of activity around science and research at the RPS. For those who are starting out on their research journeys, I invite you to access the e-learning modules on research developed by the RPS and funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research.

As for more experienced colleagues, I look forward to working more closely with you in the new year to help us collectively lead others and elevate the position of research within our wonderful profession of pharmacy.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, December 2023, Vol 311, No 7980;311(7980)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.205340

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