Press release

Award-winning polypharmacy project improves patient safety

Published: 11 January 2024

Updated: 31 January 2024


Fewer and more appropriate medications result in reduced side effects and improved quality of life

A cross-border project reviewing patients’ use of multiple medicines (polypharmacy) has improved the safety of patients by reducing adverse drug reactions.

Launching today, the evaluation report or the iSIMPATHY project found that:

  • 77% of interventions by HSE clinical pharmacists led to improved patient care
  • 4% of interventions prevented major organ failure or serious adverse reaction
  • saved over €1.2m due to fewer adverse drug reactions and admissions to hospital.

Ciara Kirke, Clinical Lead of the HSE’s National Medication Safety Programme and HSE iSIMPATHY project lead, explained:

“Over 2,500 comprehensive medicines reviews were carried out by pharmacists in GP practices in border counties as part of the iSIMPATHY project. This work resulted in people taking fewer and more appropriate medicines. An average of 11.4 interventions were made per patient, including drug changes and education, leading to a reduction of 1.2 medicines per patient.”

Patients reported significant improvements in their understanding of their medicines, increased ability to engage in daily activities and reduced side effects, following the reviews.

Bernadette from Co. Cavan said:

“This is the best thing to come into my life in a while. It is absolutely great, I was floundering as I’m on so many medications and I was lost.”

The collaborative project between health services in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland saw pharmacists working within multidisciplinary teams and engaging with healthcare professionals across care settings. In Ireland, pharmacists and GPs worked in partnership with patients to enable shared decision-making regarding medication and improve outcomes for patients.

Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly said:

“Medicines are the most common healthcare intervention, and the use of the right medicine for the right patient at the right time is central to this. In the delivery of this project, pharmacists were strategically and ideally placed as medicines experts within a multidisciplinary team framework working to maximise therapeutic outcomes for optimal patient benefit. I’d like to thank all the partners involved in the iSIMPATHY project for their work to achieve this.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised polypharmacy as a priority area for patient safety. Taking multiple medicines can be problematic if they are not achieving their intended benefits, or if the risk of harm outweighs the intended benefits. Many of these medicines are appropriate at the time of prescribing, and may be prescribed by different healthcare professionals (GP or consultant). A review at a later time that takes all factors into consideration may identify it’s not as beneficial.

8.6 million unplanned hospital admissions across Europe each year are due to adverse drug events, of which approximately 50% are potentially preventable.

The iSIMPATHY project was also well received by GPs, with all participating GPs supporting the continuation of the service.

Dr Majella Grealish, Co. Donegal, said:

“This is the single most important change in our practice since we were established over 20 years ago”.

Welcoming the report findings and positive outcomes for patients, Bernard Gloster, HSE CEO, said:

“I’m pleased to see the impact on patients and service users who have taken part in iSIMPATHY. This project has played a major role in the delivery of effective and efficient health services in the border regions. It addresses challenges we face with polypharmacy, improving care and safety for people with multiple long-term conditions. I am delighted to see just how effective this project has been in making a difference in the lives of people in the region.”

Dr Colm Henry, HSE Chief Clinical Officer, commented:

“The HSE is committed to addressing the risks of polypharmacy, which particularly affect our older population. The iSIMPATHY model of medicines review improved safety and outcomes, with reduced side effects and improved quality of life. We are exploring the potential to build on the benefits seen with iSIMPATHY through expansion of the service.”  

The project received the Health and Wellbeing Causeway Award, celebrating collaboration between Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland, in October 2023.

For more information on iSIMPATHY please visit iSIMPATHY.eu

iSIMPATHY evaluation report


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