Introduction to Medicines, Poisons and Pharmacy Calls


Role Preparation for Nurse Advisors

Handling Medicines Calls

Workshop 1: Ethical Dilemmas

A woman says she has found some medicines in her son’s room. She reads the labels - lamivudine, zidovudine and saquinavir.

Can you tell her what they are for? Would your answer be different if the call was from his wife?

Points to consider:

Third party call

– Ask the caller ‘Does your son know you are calling?’ The caller should be advised to speak to the patient or seek permission to ask for this information.

Patient confidentiality

– Identification of a medicine that is the property of another individual and providing information about its possible use is sensitive information that is private to an individual patient. Release of such information to a third party would breach duty of confidence. A duty of confidence arises when one person discloses information to another (e.g. patient to clinician) in circumstances where it is reasonable to expect that the information will be held in confidence.

Duty of care

– NHSD staff have a duty of care to both the patient and the caller. It is important to deal with the patient’s mother appropriately yet sympathetically. The patient’s wife may be at risk of infection and should be advised to speak to her husband and her GP.


– Medicines history does not lead to diagnosis. It is not possible, without full knowledge of a patient’s medical history, (confidential between a patient and his clinician) to accurately determi ne a patient’s state of health. Information provided in answer to a medicines call is only as complete as the background information given.

In deciding whether to answer this question, put yourself in the position of the patient and ask yourself

‘How would I feel?’

Role Preparation for Nurse Advisors: Handling Medicines Calls September 2007 v1.0

A man asks how long cocaine stays in the body. He used some cocaine at the weekend but is due to have a drug test tomorrow.

What advice would you give?

Points to consider

Why is the caller having a drug test?

- The test could be part of ongoing drug rehabilitation treatment, or it could form part of a job interview.

Duty of care to the wider public

-. Is avoidance of this drug test going to put others at risk? Drug testing can form part of the induction procedure for many jobs (e.g. lorry/bus drivers, police, and army).

Remain non-judgemental

- It is important to establish the full facts behind the drug test and the caller’s need for this information without prejudice.

Opportunity for drugs counselling

Suggest caller looks at the Talk to Frank Website

Motive of the caller

- Be vigilant for potential lies or malicious calls. The caller could be assessing how easy it is to get information of this type from NHSD.

Role Preparation for Nurse Advisors: Handling Medicines Calls September 2007 v1.0