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Government publishes data linking GP prescribing with hospital admissions

The Government has published data linking GP prescribing to hospital admissions related to gastro-intestinal bleeding, although it does not yet single out individual practices.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told Pulse that this level of detail would be added to the dashboard ‘later in the year’.

This comes despite concerns from GP leaders and academics whose research was used to develop the indicators.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a drive in February to reduce the ‘shocking toll’ of medication errors in the NHS, and Pulse revealed in March that this would involve the publication of practice-level prescribing data.

The dashboard is intended to help NHS England monitor and prevent prescribing errors, which cost an estimated £1.6bn each year, the DHSC has said.

The data will show if a prescription may have contributed to a patient being admitted to hospital with the first indicators focusing on how different medicines may be contributing to people being admitted to hospital with gastro-intestinal bleeding.

Commenting on the publication, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said it ‘should reassure patients that in the vast majority of cases, prescriptions issued from their GP surgery are made appropriately and accurately’.

She added: ‘GPs already use a number of embedded IT systems to help them issue the most appropriate medication for patients, such as warning indicators if a drug a person is taking might interfere with a new prescription as well as alerts about drugs that have previously caused an allergic reaction, but ultimately the more sophisticated but streamlined safety measures we have in place to minimise human error, the better.’

Research carried out by the Policy Research Unit in Economic Evaluation of Health and Care Interventions at the Universities of Sheffield and York, found there were an estimated 237 million medication errors a year in England.

Some 26% of these were classed as having the potential to cause moderate harm and 2% classed as having the potential to cause severe harm.

Error rates per patient in primary care are the lowest but the burden of errors is the second highest due to the size of the sector, according to the study.

But the University of Nottingham’s Professor Anthony Avery, a prescribing safety expert whose research was used to develop the new dashboard, and who has been advising the DHSC on the scheme, told Pulse there were concerns about publishing practice-level data without further explanation about additional factors that may impact prescribing decisions.

And GPs suggested the Government was ‘again playing the blame game’.