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Snowed-under GPs too busy for drug reaction reports

At least three-quarters of suspected adverse drug reactions are not reported to the Medicines Control Agency by GPs because they are too busy,

according to a Government watchdog.

The National Audit Office report on the Medicines Control Agency warned: 'Only around 10-25 per cent of reactions experienced by patients are reported.'

The office said GPs provided most reports ­ some 45 per cent of the 19,254 reports made in 2001/2.

Workload was among the biggest factors affecting GPs' reporting of adverse reactions via the yellow card system.

A survey of 1,220 GPs and hospital doctors by the office listed the main reasons for not reporting an adverse reaction as: doctors found the form too long; yellow cards were not easy to find when needed; reports generated too much extra work; or doctors were simply too busy.

Dr Peter Fellows, chair of the GPC prescribing sub-committee and a member of the panel that advised on the report, said the only way to improve reporting would be to free up more GP time. He said: 'This is unpaid work that relies on the goodwill of GPs. It can get very complicated. GPs are already snowed under with paperwork. A huge amount of time is involved.'

Dr Fellows, a GP in Lydney, Gloucestershire, said it was often the more minor, 'vague' reactions which were the most time-consuming.

The NAO found the reporting rate rose to around 50 per cent for serious reactions to new medicines.

Professor Saad Shakir, director of the Drugs Safety Research Unit at Southampton, and an adviser on the report, said better GP education was needed. Dr Shakir, a part-time GP in south London, said: 'Prescribing a medicine isn't the end of the story ­ we need doctors to introduce reflective prescribing.'

The report highlighted the need for the agency to more effectively disseminate safety information to doctors.

Sir John Bourn, head of NAO, said: 'The MCA has a good record but needs to communicate directly with health professionals and the public.'

Doctors surveyed said the system could be improved if safety alerts were sent via

e-mail, were better targeted towards doctors, and if safety information was simpler and more frequent.

The report will go before the Public Accounts Committee at the end of January.

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