Prescription mistakes could affect one in six patients

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Prescription mistakes could affect one in six patients

2nd May 2012

A new report claims that as many as one in six patients could be affected by errors on prescriptions issued by their GP.

A General Medical Council study based on more than 6,000 prescriptions issued concluded that GPs were making too many mistakes when prescribing drugs to patients, with the elderly and the young being the worst affected.

“This is a quite shocking report, which highlights one of the most common problems we deal with,” said Jacqui Hayat, head of the Medical Negligence department at Fentons Solicitors LLP’s London office.

The official regulator’s report, compiled by the University of Nottingham’s medical school, pointed out that many of the mistakes identified were only minor, and some would have been corrected by the pharmacist before the patients were actually given their medication.

“The fact that the most common type of error was incomplete information on the prescription means that in many cases pharmacists would not have the whole picture,” said Jacqui, a partner with the firm. “Although only 4% of the issues identified by the GMC were classed as ‘severe’, it is hugely important that the information on a prescription is accurate and the pharmacist is able to identify any potential problems in giving particular drugs to individuals.

“Any mistakes could lead to problems such as the specific dosage of medicines being wrong, errors in the timings and frequency of taking them and in some cases simply the wrong medicine.”

The most serious cases identified in the report included patients being given drugs they were allergic to, and a lack of monitoring of potentially risky drugs such as warfarin, which thins the blood.

“Whilst writing a prescription is often left to the very end of a consultation, it is vital that enough time is taken to ensure the information written by the treating physician is correct and suitable for the patient,” said Jacqui. “The GMC report has made a welcome suggestion that the length of an appointment should be increased from 10 minutes to 15 in order to ease the time pressure on doctors. But regardless of any increase, there is clearly room for improvement.”

Recommendations in the report included better training for GPs and more checks on their prescribing practices. Of the more than 1,000 patients involved in the study over the 12 month period, 18% had experienced a mistake with at least one prescription over the course of the year.

“Alarmingly, the proportion of over-75s affected was 38%, which reflects the problems arising from many elderly people often being on a number of different medications at the same time,” said Jacqui. “Children and young people were also more likely to experience an error, which is obviously huge worry.

“We often work with clients who have been mistakenly prescribed the wrong doses or in some cases even the wrong medication entirely, and the effects on them and their families can be traumatic,” she said. “Despite the government’s assurances that most mistakes are spotted and put right before any drugs are dispensed, this is clearly a cause for concern.”

Read more at: BBC News  Sky News