As specialists in handling cases relating to medication errors at Hudgell Solicitors, we have not been surprised by a new report revealing prescription mistakes and drugs mix-ups in the NHS contribute to as many as 22,300 deaths a year.
The figures are shocking to the ordinary person on the street, most of whom would imagine such a basic mistake to be very rare.
Yet medication errors equates to four to five deaths every single day, whether it be a mistake over prescription, dispensing, or the monitoring of medications.
Sadly, through our work supporting families who have been badly let down by health professionals, our medical negligence team at Hudgell Solicitors sees all too often how such basic errors can prove life-changing or even fatal.
I myself represented the widow of a man who was in hospital with pneumonia and was mistakenly given laxatives, despite already suffering from diarrhea, with the mistake contributing to him losing his life.
It was completely devastating for his family, and an error which my client will never be able to understand or accept.
Our firm also recently represented the family of 85-year-old Sheila Brock, who suffered a massive blood clot and died after a hospital mix-up left her without the vital blood-thinning medication she required for more than two days.
Jeremy Hunt admits ‘appalling levels of totally preventable harm and death’
The new research, conducted by university academics in Manchester, Sheffield and York, has identified more than 230 million medication errors a year in the NHS, a figure which is completely indefensible.
It has seen Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt forced to admit such mistakes have been ‘causing appalling levels of harm and death that are totally preventable’, and has led to him unveiling new plans to tackle the issue.
Mr Hunt is pledging to speed up the roll-out of electronic prescribing systems between GPs and pharmacists, which it is being said could cut errors “by up to 50 per cent”, as it bring an end to the use of illegible or incomplete paper prescriptions.
A new central database is also being proposed to join up medications given in GP practices with reasons for hospital admissions, allowing doctors to determine if a patient ended up in hospital because of drugs they were given, or should have been given.
New protections are also to be put in place for pharmacists to prevent them being prosecuted where a genuine error, such as an interaction with another medication the pharmacist wasn’t aware of, happens.
This is a move aimed at creating a more open culture across the NHS, where people feel able to own up to making mistakes without the threat of being prosecuted hanging over their heads.
It is hoped this more transparent approach will lead to better learning, with details of errors shared across hospitals, GPs and pharmacies, preventing such mistakes being repeated.
Only by admitting errors can NHS begin to tackle and reduce them
Mr Hunt was keen to stress that the study, commissioned by the Government, was not about blaming NHS staff, but about creating a culture where checks are in place to stop errors happening in the first place.
That is something we have long called for in our work at Hudgell Solicitors – and it is why we believe our work has an important role to play in bringing about improved standards of care.
Too often – across all aspects of healthcare – genuine mistakes and errors are not admitted and investigated. It means lessons are not learned, and potentially life-threatening mistakes are repeated.
We hope this pledge of transparency leads to mistakes being fully admitted.
It will certainly help make the process of people being rightly compensated for their suffering and loss easier.
It should also cut the cost to the NHS significantly, and most importantly lead to improved standards of care and a big reduction in the loss of life.