Over 200 million medication errors made every year

A mistake is made for every five NHS medications handed out in England, according to a new report.

Prescribing in primary care accounts for 34% of all potentially clinically significant medication errors. | iStock
Prescribing in primary care accounts for 34% of all potentially clinically significant medication errors. | iStock

An estimated 237 million medication errors occur at some point in the medication process in England per year, researchers from Manchester, York and Sheffield report.

Analysis of 36 studies in primary care, care homes and secondary care, and at the various stages of the medication pathway, revealed medication error rates ranging from 0.2% to 90.6%.

The researchers note that 72% of errors have little or no potential for harm, with many being picked up before they reach the patient.

Of the estimated 66 million potentially clinically significant errors per year, 71.0% occur in primary care (where most medicines in the NHS are prescribed and dispensed).

Prescribing errors constituted 21.3% of errors, with more than half of these having potential to cause moderate or severe harm. MIMS aims to helps GPs minimise the risk of such errors with concise and accurate drug summaries, updated constantly online to reflect the latest available information.

Avoidable adverse drug reactions due to medication errors may be responsible for 712 deaths annually, the researchers calculated.

NSAIDs, anticoagulants and antiplatelets cause over a third of hospital admissions due to avoidable adverse drug reactions. Gastrointestinal bleeds are implicated in half of the deaths from adverse drug reactions in primary care.

Preventable harm

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was concerned by the findings, although he pointed out that the research showed this was a global problem and not one unique to the NHS.

'It is a far bigger problem than generally recognised, causing appalling levels of harm and death that are totally preventable,' he said.

In a speech to a patient safety conference in London on Friday, Mr Hunt outlined steps the NHS is taking to reduce mistakes. These include the continued rollout of electronic prescribing in hospitals, which could reduce errors by 50%.

Mr Hunt also said there needs to be greater openness about mistakes, so the NHS can learn from them. He added that the study was not about blaming NHS staff, but about creating a culture where checks were in place to stop errors happening.

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