Hospitals to see patient prescription data

Minister announces data sharing to cut errors and speeding up of electronic prescribing roll out

Hospitals will be able to see data setting out a patient’s prescriptions from their GP, in a bid to cut NHS errors which are contributing up to 22,000 deaths a year.

Stephoscope on laptop keyboardJeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, announced the move to allow doctors to decide whether the drugs the patient has been taken have led to them being hospitalised.

The initiative will start with patients being treated for gastro-intestinal bleeding, allowing hospitals to check, for example, if a patient has been taking anti-inflammatories but not another drug to cut the chances of potentially fatal bleeding.

The system will be extended later to other conditions, Hunt told a Global Patient Safety Summit in London.

He also announced that introduction of electronic prescribing systems will be speeded up. Only a third of acute trusts currently have the system.

The move, linking GPs and pharmacists, could cut errors “by up to 50%” in a bid to end illegible or incomplete paper prescriptions, the conference was told. 

Research implications

The announcements came as Hunt highlighted research from York, Manchester and Sheffield Universities which found errors may be implicated in between 1,700 and 22,303 deaths in England each year. Patients can suffer harm or die when they are given the wrong drug, the wrong dose or from delays in their drugs being dispensed.

About 270 million drug errors happen every year, though three-quarters do not harm patients, according to the findings, which were commissioned by the Government.

Hunt said: “This new study shows medication error in the NHS and globally is a far bigger problem than generally recognised, causing appalling levels of harm and death that are totally preventable.”

He added: “We believe that in this country every day four to five people die because of a wrong prescription, wrong dispensing, wrong monitoring of drugs.

“This is not about blaming doctors and pharmacists and nurses who are working under a huge amount of pressure and stress, but it is about having checks in place and the right culture so that if a mistake is made people can be open about it and learn from it.”

Cause of mistakes

But Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, pointed to staff shortages, rather than technological failings, as the cause of many mistakes.

“Short staffing and severe financial pressures create an environment where it's easier to make mistakes,” she said. “Our members tell us they are rushed off their feet and are being moved from ward to ward because there aren't enough staff.

Rachel Elliott, the study author and a professor of health economics at the University of Manchester, said: “People shouldn't be worried. Most prescribers, and pharmacists and nurses are aware of the risks associated with medicines and are very vigilant at all stages.

“Unfortunately, systems are not perfect and therefore errors do occur. Most of the errors we've picked up are not going to affect the patient - are not going to even reach the patient.”

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