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DH to launch crackdown on prescribing errors



GP prescribing could come under scrutiny as part of a Government drive to cut medication errors.

The Department of Health said the scheme was likely to be launched early next year, at the latest, and that it was currently enlisting experts to set out its remit.

Primary care minister Steve Brine MP told delegates at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Conference yesterday that health secretary Jeremy Hunt was working closely with NHS England chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge on tackling prescribing errors.

This work is likely to focus on:

  • Improving communication and preventing errors when patients move between care settings;
  • How pharmacists can support GPs and care homes; 
  • The impact and uses of e-prescribing; and
  • Errors in seven-day services.

It also said there would be a public-facing programme focused on patients’ understanding of medicines, and a piece of work looking at any problems that may arise in the pathway from prescribing to dispensing and monitoring.

Mr Brine said: ‘Studies currently indicate that up to 8% of prescriptions have a mistake in dosage level, course length or medication type –a risk which the WHO identifies as “a leading cause of injury and avoidable harm in health care systems across the world”.

‘Patient education and safe management of information will be at the heart of our efforts to tackle this serious issue. For example, we will need to improve how we use electronic prescribing, as well as how we transfer information about medicines between care settings, where there is significant scope for errors.

‘Fundamental to this process is clinical leadership – and that begins with fostering the debate, inside and outside government – around how we can make these essential improvements to our healthcare system.’

A 2012 GMC analysis of prescription items found roughly one in eight patients was affected by a prescribing or monitoring error and, although only one in 550 errors was found to be severe, prompted changes to GP training.

A more recent audit of 500 practices’ prescribing, published in the BMJ in 2015, found around one in 20 patients received a prescription that should have been avoided as it could worsen their condition or interact with another medication.

GP leaders said at the time that pharmacist-led medication reviews could help boost safety and take pressure off GPs.