A questionnaire survey of the use of complementary medicines by palliative care patients

This health services research project will involve the successful applicant gaining informed consent from palliative care patients to take part in a questionnaire survey about their use of complementary medicines. In addition, the successful applicant will conduct a brief literature review and undertake data entry and analysis.

Department: Pharmacy, Chemistry, Food BioSciences and Pharmacy

Supervised by: Dr Rachel Howard

The Placement Project

Clinical experience tells us that some palliative care patients take complementary medicines (e.g. herbal, Chinese, homeopathic, or dietary supplements) in conjunction with medicines prescribed by their doctor. This can happen without the doctor’s or pharmacist’s knowledge, putting the patient at risk from dangerous adverse effects and drug interactions. The aim of this research is to identify what proportion of palliative care patients take complementary medicines, which symptoms they treat with complementary medicines, where they obtain information on these complementary medicines, and what proportion of patients take complementary medicines with the potential to interact with their prescribed medication. As part of this placement the student will conduct a brief literature review, gain informed consent from patients, enter questionnaire data onto an SPSS spreadsheet, and analyse these data using descriptive statistics. Additional support will be given by Professor Elizabeth Williamson in assessing the risk of interactions between complementary medicines and prescribed medicines. This research placement forms part of a larger project exploring the use of complementary medicines by palliative care units at two centres in Great Britain (Bradford upon Avon and Reading). The successful applicant will be responsible for gaining informed consent from patients attending the inpatient unit, and three outpatient palliative care units associated with Duchess of Kent House in Reading. NHS ethical and organisational approval for this study is being sought.


• Conduct a brief review of the literature on the use of complementary medicines and dietary supplements by palliative care patients, and other patient groups (20%). • Administer a questionnaire survey to palliative care patients attending outpatient clinics at Duchess of Kent House, Reading; Wokingham; and Newbury and (where appropriate) inpatients at Duchess of Kent House (40%). • Enter the resulting data into an SPSS spreadsheet (30%). • Analyse these data using descriptive statistics (10%).

Skills, knowledge and experience required

• Confident about talking with ill people - essential • Experience of talking to cancer/palliative care patients – desirable • Able to quickly build a rapport with people – essential • Good communication skills - essential • Close attention to detail - essential • Hold a valid UK driving license and have access to a car – essential • Knowledge of how to conduct a literature search and access literature – desirable • Awareness of NHS research governance – desirable • Experience of entering and analysing data with SPSS (or a similar statistical package) – desirable

Skills which will be developed during the placement

• Experience in, and understanding of, the process of gaining informed consent • Improved communication skills • Further experience in using SPSS and performing data analysis • Experience of working with/talking to medical and nursing staff, and palliative care patients • Awareness of issues around research governance in the NHS

Place of Work

School of Pharmacy, University of Reading; Duchess of Kent House, Reading; Day therapy units in Newbury & Wokingham

Hours of Work

Two weeks per month (flexible - can be negotiated)

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Sunday 07 June 2009 - Monday 09 November 2009

How to Apply

Please send a CV and covering letter to Dr Rachel Howard via email ( by 29th April 2009.

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