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Optimising patient care by improving understanding amongst healthcare professionals of how their patients use herbal medicines

   School of Pharmacy (Medway Campus)

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  Dr Sukvinder Bhamra, Dr B Allkin, Prof M Heinrich  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

This investigation will provide valuable insights into healthcare professionals (HCPs) personal use of Herbal Medicines (HMs) and their professional views and understanding. It will gather their views as to how current training programmes could be more effective and address wider issues regarding access by HCPs to reliable information about HMs. The goal is to improve patient outcomes through more effectively optimised pharmaceutical care-plans.

The use of herbal medicines (HMs) is growing fast in the UK, driven by enthusiasm for ‘natural’ products amongst consumers. There has been a rise in import of traditional remedies and food supplements from across the globe and enhanced commercial opportunities due to the rising demand (Bhamra et al., 2017). HMs play an increasingly important role in the lives of UK patients regardless of their cultural origins and it becomes increasingly critical for healthcare professional (HCPs) to be aware of products being used by their patients (Bhamra et al., 2019). HCPs need to be aware of the associated risks and benefits of HMs and the classes of complications that can arise through concurrent use of HMs and conventional Western medicines (CWM). The UK population is ethnically diverse and holds a wealth of cultural knowledge regarding the use and diversity of HMs. A considerable number of products are thus in widespread use by patients but are less familiar to HCPs.

Regulatory bodies such as the General Medical Council (GMC) for doctors and the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) for pharmacists all have a role in setting standards for education of undergraduate students (i.e. the future HCPs). They have set very broad statements for educational institutes, in their syllabi, to include complementary medicines so that future HCPs can deal with a multicultural patient population with their own culinary practices and traditional remedies which may impact on the efficacy and safety of CWM.

There is a common misconception that HMs are natural and therefore safe and free from harmful effects. There remains limited clinical evidence to support the safety and efficacy of many HMs and the regulatory frameworks in place to control the sale of either traditional herbal remedies or food supplements are comparatively limited. Regulatory enhancements and further clinical research are imperative for guiding HCPs clinical judgement. Effective training and understanding of the use of HMs among HCPs, however, are equally important in equipping HCPs to advise patients on the safe use of HMs, identify potential adverse drug reactions (ADRs) or herb-drug interactions, and in optimising patients’ pharmacological care plans. The diverse, frequently conflicting and often ambiguous names (trade, common or pharmaceutical) used for herbal drugs across multiple disciplines (e.g. health and nutrition) or cultures (e.g. Chinese or South Asian) represent a particular and additional challenge for HCP’s. Those that seek information (e.g. in pharmacological reference works, regulatory guidelines or published natural products research) concerning the therapeutic or other herbal products used by their patients will fail to find all published trials, ADR records or research and will be confused by the alternative terminologies employed in Pharmacopoeias or regulations from different countries. These and similar obstacles prevent HCP’s from accessing comprehensive and reliable information in order to make well-informed decisions.

Very few studies have explored the perceptions, knowledge and experiences of UK-based HCPs with regards to HMs (Bhamra et al., 2019). This project would build upon a previous small-scale study amongst HCPs and provide a unique insight into the personal and professional perceptions of HMs from a far wider set of professions on a larger scale. With the ambition of improving HCPs knowledge of herbal medicines and ultimately developing a learning resource for HCPs to update their knowledge which can contribute towards their professional development (CPD).
Entry requirements:
Applicants should have or expect to obtain a first or upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate subject and a Masters (at Merit or above) in Pharmaceutical Science or closely related subject.
How to Apply:
To apply please go to

You will need to apply through the online application form on the main University website. Please note that you will be expected to provide personal details, education and employment history and supporting documentation (curriculum vitae, transcript of results, two academic references). You are not required to submit a research proposal.

We welcome applications from people with disabilities and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

Funding Notes

This project is a self-funded opportunity available to both Home/EU and International students.

Applicant must have access to funding to cover tuition fees, living costs and any related project costs (i.e. bench fees).


Bhamra, S. K., Slater, A., Howard, C., Johnson, M., & Heinrich, M. (2017). The use of traditional herbal medicines amongst South Asian diasporic communities in the UK. Phytotherapy Research, 31, 1786–1794.

Bhamra, S. K., Slater, A., Howard, C., Johnson, M., & Heinrich, M. (2019). Healthcare professionals’ personal and professional views of herbal medicines in the United Kingdom. Phytotherapy Research, 33, 9, 2360-2368.
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