Safe and secure handling of medicines

Our guidance on the Safe and Secure Handling of Medicines (SSHM) is widely used in hospital and across other settings.
It underpins medicines governance processes in organisations across the United Kingdom.


Additional professional guidance on the administration of medicines, co-produced with the Royal College of Nursing, can be downloaded here, and our policy and guide on prescribing and dispensing / supply / administration by the same healthcare professional may help you to understand evolving practice.

What does it do? What does it do?

This standard sets out best practice principles for

  • obtaining,
  • transporting,
  • receiving,
  • manufacture and manipulation,
  • and storage of medicines.

It should be useful in developing policies and procedures around the governance of medicines within an organisation.

Who is it for? Who is it for?

Pharmacists and other healthcare professionals who are responsible for medicines governance within an organisation can use the standard as a framework to develop policies and procedures, or as an audit tool.

Any healthcare professional handling medicines may also be interested to help improve how medicines are handled within their organisation. 

Does it cover community pharmacy? Does it cover community pharmacy?

Yes. The core principles and the framework for the safe and secure handling of medicines apply across all areas of practice.  However not every stage of the framework will be applicable in every setting.

Does it cover people in their own home? Does it cover people in their own home?

No. Medicines that are obtained and stored by people in their own homes are not covered by this document; however, some of the principles are likely to apply and be of use to health and care professionals who work in peoples’ homes.

Does it cover independent clinics such as aesthetic clinics or slimming clinics? Does it cover clinics?

Yes. The core principles and the framework for the safe and secure handling of medicines apply across all areas of practice including aesthetic clinics and slimming clinics.  However not every stage of the framework will be applicable in every setting.

Does it replace the Nursing and Midwifery Council Medicines Management Standards? Does it replace NMC MMS?

No. This is a revision of an existing document.

The guidance can however, be used by nurses and midwives to support the safe and secure handling of medicines but is not a direct replacement for the NMC standards.

What next? What next?

Supporting resources

We are continuing to develop our supporting resources. 

Case studies: if you have any best practice case studies you are able to share with others please contact [email protected]

Audit tool: if you have adapted our audit tool or created your own and have a version you can share please contact [email protected]

How the RPS develops standards and guidance

SSHM has been developed through our NICE accredited process. Details can be found in our Professional standards, guidance and frameworks process development manual.

The project Task and Finish groups used a consensus process to agree the final guidance. Consensus was achieved.

The literature review can be found here.

We acknowledge the people who’ve contributed to developing the standard - you can find the details here.


This guidance has been wholly funded by the RPS who has not received any payment from a third party for its development. Further information on "How the RPS is funded" can be viewed in our Process development manual.

Links to the Terms of Reference for Advisory Steering Group and the Task and Finish groups can be found below.

The slides used at the initial scoping meeting can be found here, and the slides from the advisory group webinar are here.


Supporting quotes

Laura McIver, Director of Pharmacy, Healthcare Improvement Scotland

“We are pleased to see the launch of the revised RPS professional guidance for Safe and Secure Handling of Medicines. This guidance will be a valuable reference to support assurance and improvement in the safe use of medicines in Scotland.”

Dr Susanna Jacks, RCGP Pharmacy Representative

"This document will be of very practical value to primary care - there are general principles and more specific helpful advice- how medicines should be recorded when delivered to practices: how they should be safely transferred between main and branch settings: preserving cold chains for vaccines; how safe and secure storage of medicines in practices is needed - so they can’t be accessed by unauthorised people such as patients and yet remain easily accessible to the GPs and nurses who need to use them.”

Janice Perkins, FRPharms, Pharmacy Superintendent

“I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to contribute to the updated SSHM guidance. This is an invaluable tool for pharmacists and their teams to use alongside the MEP to ensure that best practice is being followed to meet GPhC standards.”

Tim Edwards Consultant Paramedic and Sumithra Maheswaran Trust Pharmacist, London Ambulance Service NHS Trust

“At the London ambulance Service NHS Trust, the latest Safe and Secure Handling of Medicines guidance will continue to be used to inform our daily audit checklist. We are grateful to have been given the opportunity to be stakeholders in the latest version. Having a clear set of guidelines for the Safe and Secure Handling of Medicines will assure us that we are working to the highest standards and contributes to our journey to provide a world-class ambulance service.”

Royal College of Anaesthetists

The Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA) welcomes the publication of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Safe and Secure Handling of Medicine guidance and is pleased both to support and endorse this document.

Dr William Harrop-Griffiths, Chair of the RCoA's Clinical Quality and Research Board commented: “Patient safety is at the heart of what we do as a medical Royal College. I believe the revised guidance within this document will further enhance the safe handling of medicines in the clinical environment and thereby promote the improved safety of all patients.

“The key principle for anaesthetists in this document is that the manipulation of medicines outside of pharmacy is minimised. This can be achieved with the use of prefilled syringes and other “ready-to-administer” preparations, which now becomes the appropriate standard of care in all NHS hospitals. This key change will decrease the incidence of errors in preparing medicines in the operating theatres. We also welcome the stress that the document places on the clear labelling of all medicines”.

Katherine Gough MRPharmS, Head of Medicines Optimisation, Dorset CCG

“In my role as Head of Medicines Optimisation in a large CCG I am often asked to advise on or seek assurance of all aspects of medicines storage and safety for NHS and non-NHS services that we commission or partner with in the delivery of health and social care.

The previous guidance was always a useful reference source and guide that we could use to inform this work and I look forward to the publishing of the updated guidance on the Safe and Secure Handling of Medicines so that my team are able to advise and inform on safe medicines storage for the new ways of working as Dorset transforms into an integrated care system.”

Steve Du Bois, Chief Pharmacist – Head of Medicines Management, Accountable Officer for Controlled Drugs, Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

“The shift from descriptive and prescriptive guidance on how to handle and manage medicines in the classic hospital or pharmacy settings to a principle-based approach is a welcome shift. A focus on the outcomes rather than the process allows an adaptive approach to handling and storage of medicines to keep medicines secure and our patients and the public safe in the context of the increasing complexity of health and social care: rapid and flexible responses to how we handle medicines safely and securely is needed to keep up with the of pace of service and pathway redesign.”

Sarah Green MAPharmT, Chief Pharmacy Technician, Medicines Management Team, Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust

“Safe and secure handling of medicines is everyone’s responsibility and this updated guidance is key to promoting quality and safety across all sectors. Patient safety is at the heart of everything we do and the standards covered will form the basis of revised Trust procedures and audits to support all our services to be fully compliant. It is such an important resource that reflects the changes in service delivery and technology and should be the ‘go to’ guide for all.”

Karen Harrowing FRPharmS, Quality Systems and Pharmacy Consulting

“The intended outcome to improve safety in the handling of medicines in a variety of settings will depend on the implementation of these standards. The adoption and monitoring of these standards is likely to be robust given the extensive multidisciplinary team approach and wide stakeholder engagement, including the independent sector, undertaken throughout the process of development led by RPS.”

Catherine Baldridge MRPharmS, Medicines Management Lead, Accountable Officer for Controlled Drugs, Medication Safety Office, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust

“The Safe and Secure Handling of Medicines is a particularly useful resource for pharmacists working in a medicines governance role.  It is extremely helpful to have the guidance in one place - information that is often difficult to find elsewhere.  It is also a valuable document to share with other non-pharmacist staff such as medical or nursing colleagues to support any recommendations that are being made about the safe and secure handling of medicines in an organisation.  The recommendations also help with the development of tools to monitor compliance in clinical areas.”

Rosie Furner, Community Services Pharmacist, East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust

“Our Community Health Service community clinic safe and secure handling of medicines audit is based on previous guidance, and I am awaiting the updated guidance to ensure our audit reflects any update.”

Dawn Stott, Chief Executive, Association for Perioperative Practice

"The Association for Perioperative Practice (AfPP) welcomes the publication of the Safe & Secure Handling of Medicines guidance and are pleased to have had the opportunity to contribute to this project.  The publication will add support to the standards and recommendations for safe perioperative practice and support the high quality services provided across all healthcare disciplines.  The collaborative approach to developing this guidance will ensure the support for safe patient outcomes no matter where they are carried out."

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Endorsing organisations

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Royal College of Anaesthetists logo

Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK logo

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