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Media Spotlight on Prescribing Errors

As highlighted in this week's press, a recent review by the General Medical Council of prescribing errors and monitoring errors in GP practices across the country has found that in all, 1 in 20 prescriptions contain errors.  The review, entitled Investigating  the Prevalence and Causes of Prescribing Errors in GP Practice, found the figure increased in respect of prescriptions to the elderly - where 4 out of 10 prescriptions made out for those over 75 contained errors.

Children under 14 were found to be twice as likely to have a prescription error than the age group 15 to 65.

Errors in prescribing for children under 14 appeared to be influenced by the problems with correct dosage in relation to the weight of the patient.  Difficulties relating to this have been recently highlighted with regard to the prescription of paracetamol in hospitals which is weight related with fatal consequences. 

The review looked at factors such as dosage and record keeping and giving the patient the appropriate check ups to assess medication.

The most common problem was incomplete information on the prescription followed by  problems with dosage and the timings of dosage.

Factors influencing the risk of errors included:

•    The number of medicines a patient was taking;
•    The age of the patient; and
•    The type of medication.

Of the errors found 42% were judged minor, 54% judged mild and 4% severe.

However, the impact of a serious but simple prescribing error can have devastating effect on a patient such as in the case of a patient who lost 95% vision as a result of a doubling of the dosage on her prescription by the GP without review.

It was also evident from the review that GPs take their responsibilities with regard to prescribing very seriously but can sometimes be affected by factors such as the time constraints imposed on them with regard to appointments, frequent distractions and interruptions when dealing with repeat prescriptions.

The review recommends better training for GPs on safe prescribing and closer working between the GP and pharmacists and more effective use of computer systems to flag up errors.

Kay Kelly from Lanyon Bowdler has acted in a tragic case of paracetamol overdose as reported in the Daily Mirror.

If you require any information or advice with regard to the consequences of a prescribing error please contact a member of our clinical negligence team on 0800 954 9936.