Service users’ experiences of contacting NHS patient medicines helpline services: a qualitative study

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Objectives: Patient medicines helpline services (PMHS) are available from some National Health Service (NHS) Trusts in the UK to provide medicines information to hospital patients and carers. To date, studies of PMHS have examined the views of service users via satisfaction surveys. This study used qualitative methods to explore service users’ experiences of using a PMHS, including perceived benefits and areas for improvement. Design: Qualitative, using semi-structured interviews. Setting: This study was conducted across seven NHS Trusts in England. Participants: Forty users of PMHS were individually interviewed over the telephone. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analysed using Braun & Clarke’s inductive reflexive Thematic Analysis. Ethical approval was obtained before study commencement. Results: Participants predominantly called a PMHS for themselves (82%; carers: 18%). Two main themes were generated. Theme 1: Timeliness: PMHS provide support during the uncertain transition of care period from hospital to home, when patients and carers often feel vulnerable because support is less available. PMHS met service users’ needs for timely and easily accessible support, and quick resolution of their issues. PMHS could be improved with staffing beyond typical work week hours, and by having staff available to answer calls instead of using an answerphone. Theme 2: PMHS are best-placed to help: PMHS were perceived as best-placed to answer enquiries that arose from hospital care. Service users felt reassured from speaking to pharmacy professionals, and PMHS were perceived as the optimal service in terms of knowledge and expertise regarding medicines-related questions. However, several participants were initially unaware that their PMHS existed. Conclusions: PMHS are perceived to be a valuable means of accessing timely medicines-related support when patients and carers may be feeling particularly vulnerable. However, their availability and promotion could be improved. We recommend that providers of PMHS consider whether this is achievable, in order to better meet the needs of service users.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere036326
JournalBMJ Open
Early online date28 Jun 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Jun 2020


  • Patients
  • carers
  • service users
  • medicines information
  • drug information services
  • patient medicines helpline services
  • hospital discharge
  • National Health Service
  • qualitative
  • thematic analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacy


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