News Release

Research looks at the link between procedures and everyday practice in community pharmacy

Peer-Reviewed Publication

NIHR Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre

A study published in the journal Applied Ergonomics compared the standardised processes set out for community pharmacists to follow when dispending medication to what happens in reality. A gap was revealed and researchers also looked at the reasons for this.

The research, "Mind the gap: Examining work-as-imagined and work-as-done when dispensing medication in the community pharmacy setting"*, was conducted by the National Institute for Health Research Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre (NIHR GM PSTRC). The Centre is a partnership between The University of Manchester and Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust.

The research involved observing pharmacists and pharmacy staff as they conducted the task of dispensing, and comparing this with what was documented to happen according to the procedures. The actions involved in dispensing were mapped out in detail, through the use of a human factors technique called task analysis. A focus group of community pharmacists helped the researchers understand why some of these differences between written standardised procedures and reality exist.

Ahmed Ashour, a researcher in the Medication Safety theme at the GM PSTRC and lead researcher for this study, said: "Once we had identified a gap between the theory and reality of medication dispensing in community pharmacy a further focus group helped us to recognise why the gap exists. Importantly, they were able to help put these reasons into four main themes, enabling us to understand the context around tasks that take place in a pharmacy."

These themes are:

  1. The need to be more efficient due to factors such as time pressures
  2. Lack of resources which are required (e.g., access to patient records)
  3. Thoroughness (to ensure common mistakes were avoided)
  4. Delegating safeguards which means staff members may skip a step or a check because they know a computer system or other safety measure will fill the gap.

Professor Darren Ashcroft, Theme Lead for Medication Safety at the GM PSTRC, said: "In recent years there has been a drive towards improving patient safety through greater standardisation of how tasks are completed in health care as a way of reducing the risk of errors. However, pharmacists work in incredibly busy and pressured pharmacies and it's crucial the protocols that are in place take that into account.

"That's why this research is vital as it looks at how these protocols perform in reality and identifies the gap which allows us to make recommendations to make medication dispensing safer."

The research suggests that more user testing of standardised operating procedures is required to better reflect the complexity of day-to-day working practices. In addition, in some instances greater flexibility may be needed in the procedures, to allow for safe variations in practice, when pharmacists deem it necessary to optimise patient safety.

Ahmed, concluded: "This research has shown that not all differences between procedures and practice are done to make tasks quicker. At times pharmacists feel it's necessary to be more thorough when dispensing or when they do not have access to the resources they need. Further research should look at each of these themes in-depth, and highlight how standardised procedures should be adapted in light of them."


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Notes for editors:


    About the NIHR Greater Manchester Translational Research Centre:

    The NIHR Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre is a partnership between The University of Manchester and Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust in collaboration with The University of Nottingham which aims to make healthcare safer in primary care and transitions of care. It's funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) for five years from 2017 until 2022 and is one of three PSTRC in England. The GM PSTRC is responsible for research across four themes: Safety Informatics, Medication Safety, Safer Care Systems and Transitions, and Safety in Marginalised Groups.

    For more information visit -

    About the University of Manchester:

    The University of Manchester, a member of the prestigious Russell Group, is the UK's largest single-site university with 38,600 students. It has 20 academic schools and hundreds of specialist research groups undertaking pioneering, multi-disciplinary teaching and research of worldwide significance. The University is one of the country's major research institutions, rated fifth in the UK in terms of 'research power' (REF 2014), and has had no fewer than 25 Nobel laureates either work or study there. The University had an annual income of £1 billion in 2014/15.



    The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care.
  • Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • Attracts trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future.
  • Invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy

    The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR supports applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries, using UK aid from the UK government.

    This work uses data provided by patients and collected by the NHS as part of their care and support and would not have been possible without access to this data. The NIHR recognises and values the role of patient data, securely accessed and stored, both in underpinning and leading to improvements in research and care.

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