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Drug errors contribute to five deaths in the NHS everyday

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A study has revealed an estimated 237 million medication errors occur in the NHS in England every year.

GPs, pharmacists, hospitals and care homes could be making up to 237 million medication errors a year - which is the equivalent of one mistake made for every five drugs administered.

Researchers from the Universities of York, Manchester and Sheffield have reported that an estimated 712 deaths as a direct result of errors but claim errors could have been a contributory factor to between 1,700 and 22,303 deaths a year.

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Drug errors contribute to five deaths in the NHS everyday

Image: © Sherry Young

The research showed that fifth of the mistakes related to hospital care. Examples of drug errors included in the research are;

  • Wrong medications being given.
  • Incorrect doses administered.
  • Delays in medication being administered.
  • Incorrect route or preparation.
  • Prescribing errors.

Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said;

"We are seeing four to five deaths every single day because of errors in prescription, or dispensing, or the monitoring of medications."

“It’s very important to say this is not about blaming doctors, nurses or pharmacists who work incredibly hard under a huge amount of pressure, but it is about having a culture where we have the checks in place to stop this happening and where we’re able to learn from mistakes.”

Mr Hunt unveiled plans to tackle these mistakes by committing to an information gathering exercise for patients with certain conditions and speeding up the introduction of electronic prescribing nationwide.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said that Jeremy Hunt needs to tackle the root cause of the problem - chronic understaffing and the immense pressure placed on healthcare professionals.

Janet Davies, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, responding to the report on dispensing errors, said:

“Short staffing and severe financial pressures create an environment where it’s easier to make mistakes. The report cites human error as one of the biggest risks. Electronic prescribing helps, but you need to look at the end to end process.

“The review acts as a reminder of the need to address NHS staffing levels. We need the people with the right skills and knowledge in the right place. Our members tell us they are rushed off their feet and are being moved from ward to ward because there aren’t enough staff. The high use of agency nurses brings an unintended risk too - fewer mistakes are made when patients are cared for by staff who work permanently at that hospital and know its patients, equipment and procedures.

“The Government cannot go on ignoring the evidence. Only by setting safe and effective staffing levels in legislation, in every part of the UK, can we improve patient safety.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that drug errors are “a leading cause of injury and avoidable harm in healthcare systems across the world”. It is currently leading efforts to halve the serious harm such incidents cause internationally over the next five years.


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