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UK to crack down on 237m annual medication errors

Published on 23/02/18 at 11:19am

A new study commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care has revealed that 237 million medication errors are estimated to be occurring within the UK’s healthcare system each years.

Within these figures, it is predicted that 700 deaths are directly as a result to medication errors and a potential 22,300 further deaths could be as a result of related mistakes.

Errors covered by the study included the wrong medications being given to patients, incorrect doses being delivered or a delay in medication being received.

The study did note that the vast majority, three quarters of cases, would have no impact on the health of patients. However, the cost of these errors is estimated to be worth around £1.6 billion to the NHS each year.

There are a total of 1.15 billion prescriptions made each year, with approximately 91% of these being made by GPs. So, even though the report suggested 71% of errors were made in primary care, it is not GPs that are disproportionately making mistakes but simply due to writing a larger percentage of prescriptions.

Responding to Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s proposed measures to reduce medication errors in the NHS, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Identifying and prescribing the drugs that are most likely to benefit a patient is a core part of a GP’s training and daily practice.

“GPs work hard to avoid making mistakes in the prescribing process, and our patients should be reassured that in the vast majority of cases, prescriptions are made appropriately and correctly. But as well as being highly-qualified medical professionals, doctors are also human, so medication mistakes can and occasionally do happen.”

In response to the study, Jeremy Hunt is expected to announce changes further strengthening linked-up care between primary and secondary care services.

This will involve the wider introduction of electronic-prescribing systems, which will then be checkable by doctors on hospital admission – to ensure no errors has been made with prescription that led to the hospitalisation.

In practice, this will begin with ensuring NSAIDs given patients were delivered alongside a protective to the digestive system, as a test case.

Ben Hargreaves

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