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Health Secretary responds to evaluation showing huge impact of medicines errors

How is Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt planning to tackle medicines errors?

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has responded to an analysis showing GPs, pharmacists, nurses and care home staff may make 237m errors a year, equivalent to one for every five drugs given to patients.

Mr Hunt said the analysis, by Policy Research Unit in Economics Evaluation of Health and Care Interventions (EEPRU), showed that mistakes are being made and are causing appalling levels of harm and deaths, the BBC has reported.

He added that the problem was global and a far bigger problem than generally recognised.

He is expected to outline steps to address the issue in the NHS, including continuing implementation of electronic prescribing in hospitals, which is estimated to reduce errors by 50%. He is also to argue there should be greater openness about mistakes, to allow the NHS to learn from them.

The drug errors covered by the figures included patients being given the wrong medications, the wrong doses and delays in medication being administered.

Most caused no problems, according to the study authors, but harm could have resulted in in more than a quarter of cases, and that drug errors could be a factor in thousands of deaths a year.

The researchers acknowledge that only limited data on medication errors is available and that the figures they have provided should be regarded as estimates. However, they concluded that drug errors could cause 700 deaths a year and may be a factor in between 1,700 and 22,300 other deaths.

Royal College of GPs (RCGP) chair Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard said intense pressures on front line services will contribute to the problem.

Department of Health and Social Care officials published a report by the short life working group on reducing medication-related harm.

This concluded that increasing use of technology in both primary and secondary care is expected to reduce medication errors and to reduce errors, including through implementation of pharmacist-led information technology intervention (PINCER) in primary care.

Further information

BBC: Drug errors cause appalling harm and deaths, says Hunt website: Report of the short life working group on reducing medication-related harm
RCGP: College welcomes patient safety measures on prescribing
University of York: More than 200 million medication errors occur in NHS per year, say researchers