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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Patient and carer experience of obtaining regular prescribed medication for chronic disease in the English National Health Service: a qualitative study

Patricia M Wilson1*, Neha Kataria2 and Elaine McNeilly1

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care, University of Hertfordshire, College Lane, Hatfield AL10 9AB, UK

2 Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust, Hamstel Road, Harlow CM20 1QX, UK

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:192  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-192

Published: 24 May 2013



The increasing burden of chronic disease is recognised globally. Within the English National Health Service, patients with chronic disease comprise of half of all consultations in primary care, and 70% of inpatient bed days. The cost of prescribing long-term medications for those with physical chronic diseases is rising and there is a drive to reduce medicine wastage and costs. While current policies in England are focused on the latter, there has been little previous research on patient experience of ordering and obtaining regular medication for their chronic disease. This paper presents findings from England of a qualitative study and survey of patients and their carers’ experiences of community and primary care based services for physical chronic diseases. Although not the primary focus of the study, the results highlighted particular issues around service delivery of repeat prescriptions.


We conducted 21 qualitative in-depth interviews with 30 patients and family carers’ in two Primary Care Trusts in England. Participants were receiving community based care for diabetes, respiratory, neurological or complex co-morbidities, and ranged in age from 39–92 years old. We used a broadly inductive approach to enable themes around patient experience to emerge from the data.


While the study sought to gain an overview of patient experience, the findings suggested that the processes associated with ordering and obtaining regular medication – the repeat prescription, was most frequently described as a recurring hassle of managing a long-term condition. Issues for patients and carers included multiple journeys to the surgery and pharmacy, lack of synchrony and dissatisfaction with the length of prescriptions.


Much literature exists around medication waste and cost, which led to encouragement from the NHS in England to reduce dosage units to a 28-day supply. While there has been an acknowledgement that longer supplies may be suitable for people with stable chronic conditions, it appears that there is limited evidence on the impact of shorter length prescriptions on patient and carer experience, adherence and health outcomes. Recent policy documents within England also fail to address possible links between patient experience, adherence and flaws within repeat prescription service delivery.

Chronic disease; Patient experience; Prescribed medication; Health service delivery