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National Patient Safety Agency

Medicines-taking them safely

Taking medicine may be an important part of recovery after an illness. There are things you can do to make sure you take your medicines safely



Before you start taking a new medicine, ask your doctor, pharmacist or nurse what it’s for and if there’s anything you need to know about it. Don’t take someone else’s medicine or give yours to anyone. When taking antibiotics, take the whole course, even if you start to feel better. Ask your doctor, pharmacist or nurse to check the medicine and dose is the right one for you. All medicines have patient information leaflets. If you do not receive a leaflet with your medicine, please ask for one. If going into hospital or having your medicines reviewed by your nurse, doctor or pharmacist, bring any medicines or tablets that you’re taking (in the original containers if possible).


You should tell them if you’re taking vitamins or herbal supplements, have any allergies or are, or think you might be, pregnant. During a stay in hospital, make sure you are prescribed all your usual medicines (including eye drops, skin preparations and inhalers). If your usual medicines are stopped, either temporarily or permanently, ask why. If you’re being discharged from hospital it’s important that you, your GP and pharmacist are given clear instructions about the medicines you’ll continue to take, any that have been discontinued, and those where the dose or frequency has been changed. Take any unused medicines to your pharmacist – don’t put them in the bin or flush them away.




Amanda Cale's father died following a bad reaction to his medication. Amanda, 45, a glass engraver from Dursley in Gloucestershire, says:  


“My dad was prescribed a drug for rheumatoid arthritis called methotrexate. He was told there could be some nasty side effects, but he didn’t ask any questions.


Medicines 2

After three months, he started feeling breathless. It was the middle of the summer and he thought the heat had brought it on so he ignored it. When it didn’t go away he asked my mother to check the leaflet that came with his medicine and he worked out that the medication was probably responsible. He waited a total of three days before he saw his doctor.


His GP sent him straight to hospital and it was five more days until the doctors started treating him with the drug that could have saved his life. But they were too late. He died eight days later.


After his death, I joined the National Patient Safety Agency’s campaign for more awareness of this drug’s risks. Now when it is prescribed, patients are given information about all the possible side effects and what to look out for – and what to do if they detect anything worrying. We all have to take some responsibility for our health. Part of that responsibility is asking your doctor questions when you get a prescription. Ask about any side effects and, importantly, if they’re serious. These questions could have saved my father’s life. I really don’t think a doctor would mind being asked.”



It's OK to ask if they've cleaned their hands

Germs can cause infections and hospital staff take hand hygiene seriously. Using a disinfectant handrub kills almost all bacteria in just 30 seconds, so your doctor or nurse won’t mind you asking if they’ve remembered to use it.



Please Ask about medicines