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Patient choice may mean conflict in consultations

Medication errors account for up to one in four negligence claims against GPs and cost defence bodies millions of pounds each year, new figures reveal.

Failure to monitor long-term medicines like warfarin and steroids correctly, prescribing the wrong drug or dosage and adverse reactions to NSAIDs are among the most common causes of costly legal action against GPs.

The Medical Defence Union said medication errors had cost it £12.5 million over the last five years and accounted for a quarter of its claims, while the Medical Protection Society reported similar figures.

The statistics came as the BMJ (July 3) reported that adverse drug reactions cost the NHS £466 million a year.

But Dr Nick Dunn, senior lecturer in primary medical care at the University of Southampton, said medication errors were not always preventable.

Dr Dunn, an honorary consultant to the WHO drug safety monitoring centre, said: 'The population is growing older, we are able to treat more diseases with more potent drugs and there is a greater chance that people are on multiple medications.'

He advised GPs to prescribe the minimum number of drugs possible, to stick to drugs with which they are familiar and not to prescribe outside a drug's indications.

•The medical revolution in the UK is laid bare by new Government statistics showing a 46 per cent increase in prescriptions over the last decade.

The number of items prescribed increased to 13.1 per head of population in 2003, up from 12.4 in 2002 and 8.4 in 1993, and prescribing costs leapt 9.7 per cent in the last year.

By Emma Wilkinson

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