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'Significant progress' in limiting GP prescribing of controlled drugs, CQC finds

By Lilian Anekwe

GPs have made ‘significant progress' in limiting the prescription of controlled drugs since the Shipman inquiry, according to a new report by the Care Quality Commission.

But the prescribing of controlled drugs by nurses and pharmacists has risen ‘substantially', the report also found.

A raft of prescribing regulations were implemented after ineffective monitoring had allowed Dr Harold Shipman to obtain large quantities of diamorphine, which he used to kill at least 15 and possibly up to 200 patients.

Overall, the number of items prescribed by GPs rose by just 3% in 2008, compared with 2007. But the number prescribed by nurses rose ‘substantially' by 30% in only a year, from 276,000 in 2007 to 360,000 in 2008.

Controlled drug prescribing by pharmacists rocketed by 89% from 3,000 to 5,000 over one year.

The most commonly prescribed controlled drugs by nurses were methadone, buprenorphine, diazepam and co-codamol. Pharmacists most commonly prescribed methadone, temazepam, diazepam and co-codamol.

The report concedes increased prescribing of controlled drugs by nurses and pharmacists is in line with Government policy to encourage non-medical prescribing.

Cynthia Bower, the CQC's chief executive, said healthcare workers are now better trained to deal with concerns about controlled drugs and to identify problems sooner.

‘There is no doubt that England's healthcare system is better equipped than ever to spot irregularities in the handling of controlled drugs early and to take action where problems arise.

‘Healthcare staff are better trained and more aware of issues relating to controlled drugs. We also have access to more information about prescribing patterns.

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