Improving safety of medicines administration in a Birmingham Care Home

Improving safety of medicines administration in a Birmingham Care Home

Posted on July 20

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The QI initiative was part of a National Medicines Safety Improvement Programme (MedSIP) commissioned by NHS England and Improvement (NHSE/I) which aims to improve the safer administration of medicines in care homes.

The West Midlands Patient Safety Collaborative (WMPSC) who are leading this work in the West Midlands region invited expressions of interest from care homes in the region to be part of this pioneering improvement work.

The manager at Marian House was first introduced to QI tools and techniques back in 2019 when she completed a Leadership and Development programme with My Home Life. My Home Life had delivered very successful development programmes for care home managers for many years however the programme was enhanced by the addition of a QI module (sponsored by the WMAHSN) and this proved to be invaluable to the effectiveness and outcomes of the leadership programme.

The manager and staff at Marian House have always been keen to improve the quality of care for residents and have a track record of implementing QI projects successfully. Staff identified an interest in undertaking a QI project to improve safer administration of medicines for residents by reducing the number of avoidable interruptions to medicine rounds.

This is important because medicine rounds are a safety critical activity and distractions caused by interruptions may result in error which has potential to cause harm related incidents. The Care Home Use of Medicines Study (CHUMS report) published in 2009 outlined the prevalence, causes and potential harm of medication errors in 55 care homes for older people. The report revealed an unacceptable level of medication errors relating to older people in care homes. The study showed that care home residents take an average of eight different medicines every day. On any one day, seven out of ten residents experience mistakes with their medications. These errors range from doses being missed or given incorrectly, to the wrong drugs being given out. In some cases, these errors have the potential to cause very serious harm. Distractions during medicine rounds are one potential source of error.

Staff were supported by Caroline Maries-Tillott the QI lead at the WMPSC to use the IHI Model for Improvement to guide their improvement project.

Staff started the project by collecting baseline data about the number of interruptions to medicine rounds. Staff audited the number of interruptions to medicine round over a period of 3 weeks- including the reason for the interruption and who the interruption was by. This data was then presented back to staff and staff agreed a SMART aim for the project and improvement ideas were generated.

Marian House Care Home AIM

The baseline data showed that medicine rounds were interrupted frequently with the morning medicine round being the most frequently interrupted. Baseline data showed that the morning medicine round was interrupted on average of 3 times. Using the baseline data staff agreed the following SMART aim for their improvement project:

To reduce the number of avoidable interruptions to medicine rounds be1/3rd over the next month. 

A (COVID safe) staff meeting was held and staff then identified a number of potential improvement ideas to test out.

The Improvement Ideas

Armed with post it notes and a flip chart staff discussed and agreed upon a number of improvement ideas to test out to see if they would be successful in achieving their aim of reducing interruptions to medicine rounds over the next month.

The ideas fell into 3 themes: Culture change, change of practice and reminder / relaunch of procedure / protocol relating to other communication methods.

The table below shows a number of interventions identified by staff for testing. Staff continued to audit the number of interruptions to medicine rounds so that they could track whether or not the interventions were driving a reduction in the number of interruptions.





Nurse to handover phone to care staff whilst doing medicines round

Change of practice

Nursing staff

Immediate effect

Remind staff at handover to use communication book for non-urgent messages (Admin staff to purchase a brightly coloured book as a visual prompt)

Reminder of procedure/ protocol

All staff

Immediate effect

Respectful challenge of avoidable interruptions

Staff culture change


Immediate effect

All staff to consider whether interruption is avoidable- and if other options are available

Staff culture change

All staff

Immediate effect

Ensure all new staff and visitors know about how and when to soft signs tool to escalate concerns about residents

Reminder of procedure/ protocol

Manager & All staff

1 week



Impact on interruptions to medicine rounds

It was recognised at the onset that not all interruptions are avoidable particularly if there is a safety issue that requires urgent action. Interruptions by residents are sometimes also unavoidable given the high number of residents with dementia. However, the data showed significant and sustained reductions were noted in ALL medicine rounds following implementation of the improvement interventions.

Indeed, results show that the original care home AIM to reduce the number of avoidable interruptions to the morning medicine round by 1/3rd over the next month was not only achieved but surpassed.

An important part of any QI project is to track progress and share the results with staff. This engages and motivates staff to discuss what is working well and what interventions may need to be adapted. In addition to staff meetings where results have been shared and celebrated the manager has also developed posters to thank staff for their efforts and celebrate their achievements. 

The improvements achieved at Marian House Nursing home represent a significant culture shift towards safer medicines administration for the residents that they care for. The methodology and results from this improvement project has been shared with other Patient safety Collaboratives across the country that are also engaged with similar Medicines related improvement work. It is anticipated that similar improvement will be realised in care homes across the country supporting the ambition to improve the safer administration of medicines for vulnerable residents in care homes.