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Prescription errors – how often do you question the medication you are given?

There are plenty of types of medication errors that occur every day. From receiving the wrong dosage to being given someone else’s prescription entirely, there are countless ways in which prescription errors occur.

In this article, we discuss just how often prescription errors happen in England as well as the most common mistakes made. We then explain what to do to prevent medical mistakes, as well as what to do if you believe a prescription error has occurred.

How often do prescriptions errors occur?

In 2020, national estimates, published online in the BMJ Quality and Safety journal, indicated that more than 237 million medication errors are made each year in England.

Errors were found to occur at every stage of the medication process, including during prescription, dispensing, administration, or monitoring. Over half (54%) of the errors made were during the administration of medication, whilst 21% of errors were made during the prescribing stage.

Medication errors in care homes were found to be the highest at 42%, despite covering fewer patients than the other sectors. Approximately one in five medication errors occurred in hospitals. In comparison, primary care was found to have the lowest error rates. However, due to the size of the sector, this accounts for almost four out of 10 mistakes made.

Researchers found that these “definitely avoidable” medication errors cost the NHS approximately £98.5 million every year. Not only that, medication errors have dire consequences, with an estimated 1,708 lives lost each year due to prescription errors.

Common medication errors and medical mistakes

Here at Hudgell Solicitors, we have become increasingly concerned with the number of cases where basic errors have been made with regards to patients’ medication.

From the misdiagnosis to incorrect doses being advised, our team is experienced in examining the care received as well as identifying any mistakes and the severity of errors made.

One case in particular highlights the horrific effects of medication errors in nursing. In this recently settled case, a 77-year-old patient lost almost all of his sight after doctors failed to take him off medication known to cause loss of vision as a side effect.

Sight loss had been a known side effect of the medication being used to treat a lung infection but when the patient complained of blurred vision, doctors failed to take him off the medication, leading to almost complete loss of sight.

Sadly, those errors can be life-changing, and even fatal, as in a number of cases we have acted on recently. These included:

  • A grandmother dying after being wrongly given tablets to reduce blood sugar levels by a pharmacist despite never having suffered from diabetes.
  • A woman left with extra difficulties in life, including the loss of memory and communication skills, after not being given the appropriate doses of seizure-controlling medication in the hospital.
  • A patient dying shortly after suffering a stroke after her GP left her without vital blood-thinning medication for more than a week when switching treatment.

Preventing medical negligence

Given that mistakes can and do happen, patients are best advised to always take any medication with caution. Patients should also ensure that they make their GPs aware of any medical history which could impact the treatment they can have.

If you are prescribed medications, always:

  • Read the patient information leaflet included within the medication pack to check for known risks and that you are not in a category of patients that the medication would be unsuitable for.
  • Ask about the risks or side effects of any new medication prescribed, and if you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask more questions of your GP or pharmacist.
  • Be aware of the medications that you cannot take (perhaps due to allergies or other reasons) and any medication you are already taking so you can inform the doctor before they prescribe something new.
  • Make sure you look carefully at all medicines before you take them and if they don’t look like what you usually take, ask questions.

How to report prescription errors

Medication error reporting will depend on the circumstances of the medical mistake that has taken place. How you communicate medical errors in a care home is different to reporting prescription errors in a doctor’s office.

For example, since 2010, all adult social care must notify the Care Quality Commission (CQC) under the Health and Social Care Act 2008 about specific incidents of prescription errors in care homes.

Further, Prompt 9B of the CQC guidance specifies that clear procedures should be in place for reporting adverse events, incidents, errors, and near-misses. All medication errors should be fully and carefully investigated, taking into account the context and circumstances as well as the position or experience of the staff involved.

If you notice that you have been given the wrong medication or you are concerned about the dosage prescribed, you should talk to the duty manager in the first instance. Keep any evidence of the instance and follow the service provider’s policy on medication errors.

If you are uncertain about the process or are unsatisfied with the outcome of an investigation, be sure to talk to a legal professional about your options.

Final thoughts

Medical negligence of any kind can result in serious harm. Prescription errors have been known to lead to injury and even death when not handled efficiently and correctly.

Our expert medical negligence lawyers have in-depth knowledge of the Care Quality Commission care guidelines and can help you understand what is reportable to safeguarding in relation to medication errors.

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