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GPs unaware of dangerous inaccuracies in sphygmos

GPs are unaware of potential inaccuracies in their blood pressure monitoring devices that could potentially damage patient care, a Government inquiry has warned.

A committee set up to examine the shift from mercury-based to electronic blood pressure monitoring by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said there were no systems in place to ensure electronic devices were correctly calibrated.

And according to the committee – on blood pressure monitoring in clinical practice – problems with inaccurate aneroid or electronic devices were not as obvious as problems with mercury devices.

Minutes from the committee's last meeting said: 'Electronic blood pressure monitoring devices are common in primary care. These devices are not being introduced systematically and there are no systems in place to ensure the purchase of validated devices.'

However, Dr Terry McCormack, deputy-chair of the Primary Care Cardiovascular Society, denied the devices were inaccurate. 'We've now moved over to electronic devices – we take great care to make sure they are calibrated correctly. The advantage of these devices is that they remove observer bias,' he said.

Dr McCormack, who practises in Whitby, North Yorkshire, suggested the main cause of inaccurate measurements was taking readings from patients without having allowed them to rest for 10 minutes. 'My main worry is that we take too high a reading because we don't have the time,' he said.

The committee also noted that mercury sphygmomano-meters were being replaced by electronic devices because of environmental pressures to remove mercury, and that the skills for using a mercury device were being lost.

But Dr Peter Randall, CHD lead for Isle of Wight PCT and a GP in Sandown, said: 'We bought 10 machines in preparation for the new contract but we found that the range of variation between them is unnecessarily high.'

Dr Randall added: 'You can't argue with a column of mercury and I'm very reluctant to change.' He said: 'We may do untold damage to our patients [with electronic devices]. It will undoubtedly affect our quality targets.'

By Rob Finch

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