Description of specialty

Clinical pharmacology and therapeutics (CPT) is the only medical specialty focusing on the safe, effective, and economic use of medicines. It is a diverse and wide-ranging discipline that plays an essential role across multiple areas of the NHS, contributing to its organisational objectives and, most importantly, improving patient outcomes and experiences. CPT is also key to increasing the interaction between industry and the NHS. This is highlighted in a report by the British Pharmacological Society (BPS), Clinical Pharmacology: A dynamic medical specialty essential for UK healthcare (see p 13, ‘Clinical pharmacologists ensure decision-making is cost-effective and rationalised’ and p 14, ‘Clinical pharmacologists help the NHS bridge the gap between drug efficacy/effectiveness and value for money’).

The specialty of CPT makes a major contribution to the health and wealth of the nation by:

  • improving patients’ lives by developing new medicines and by ensuring that new and existing medicines are used safely and effectively
  • providing general and specialist medical services, often as part of a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, in hospitals and the community
  • bringing unique benefits to the UK’s academic and life sciences sectors, attracting investment and improving care in the NHS for the benefit of patients.

Clinical pharmacologists make a particularly valuable contribution to the NHS including:

  • providing specialist and generalist patient care in hospitals (including paediatrics) for inpatients and outpatients, and in other settings including primary care, using their expertise in the use of medicines to improve outcomes and prevent avoidable harm
  • leading clinical toxicology services and the National Poisons Information Service
  • advising on all aspects of medicines policy and management including regulation, health economic assessments, prescribing guidance, and formulary management in order to optimise the clinical and cost-effective use of medicines. For every £1 of investment, clinical pharmacology has delivered savings of £10 to the NHS according to a BPS report in 2014.
  • providing education and training for undergraduates and postgraduates to ensure doctors have the appropriate skills to prescribe safely and effectively
  • working with industry and supporting the UK’s life sciences sector to enhance the development of innovative new medicines and improve the use of current medicines
  • bringing innovation to the NHS through experimental medicine by designing early phase clinical trials, establishing NHS clinical research facilities, and providing overarching clinical support.

Graphic showing the value of clinical pharmacology to the NHS

Fig 1: The value of CPT to the NHS

(Reproduced from: British Pharmacological Society. Clinical pharmacology: a dynamic medical speciality essential for UK healthcare. London: BPS, 2015. Page 2.) 

Clinical pharmacologists play a key role in bridging the gap between primary and secondary care and can contribute to new models of integrated care. Clinical pharmacologists are well positioned to oversee transitions and ensure that drug therapy, adverse reactions, drug interactions, and evidence of efficacy are monitored effectively.