Drug errors cause appalling harm and deaths

The BBC has published a story highlighting research that suggests GPs, pharmacists, hospitals and care homes may be making 237 million errors a year – the equivalent of one mistake made for every five drugs handed out.

The mistakes include wrong medications being given, incorrect doses dispensed, and delays in medication being administered. It is believed that in more than a quarter of cases, these mistakes could have caused harm.

The researchers were from Manchester, Sheffield and York universities. They estimate that drug errors cause 700 deaths a year and could also be a factor in between 1,700 and 22,300 other ones.

A fifth of the mistakes related to hospital care, including errors made by doctors administering anaesthetic before surgery.

One of the people who suffered from a drug error was our client’s father.  He was admitted to hospital suffering from a pre-existing condition and unfortunately was prescribed two drugs at the same time which should not have been given together.  As a result, he died.  The Hospital Trust admitted liability, but it is very worrying that these types of mistakes are so significant in number.

In the BBC article, the Royal College of Nursing chief executive Janet Davies said that the study was “deeply concerning” and “there is real problems in preserving patient safety when you haven’t got enough staff and when we’ve got the financial pressures we have.”

She said human error is “one of the biggest risks” and that overstretched nursing staff and agency workers put “added risk in” the system, but certainly did not make errors inevitable.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt expressed his concerns, acknowledging that the findings show “a far bigger problem than generally recognised, causing appalling levels of harm and death that are totally preventable.”

In a speech to a patient safety conference in London this Friday, Mr Hunt is expected to outline the steps the NHS is taking to reduce mistakes. These include the continued rollout of the much delayed electronic prescribing – only a third of hospitals have an effective system in place.

The Department of Health and Social Care believe the roll out of electronic prescribing systems across more hospitals could reduce errors by 50%.

In his speech, Mr Hunt will also say there needs to be greater openness about mistakes, so the NHS can learn from them.

This research and news story once again highlight the difficulties faced by patients and staff within the healthcare system.  We must do what we can to prevent harm and keep patients safe.  In cases where this has not happened, those affected must have an avenue for support to include compensation.

If you or a family member has suffered from mistakes made by the NHS or other healthcare provider, which you consider unacceptable and feel that this has caused an injury, Devonshires Claims are medical negligence specialists and are here to help with the difficult process of seeking compensation.

If you wish to speak with one of our team, please contact Karen Cathcart, a specialist lawyer with experience in these types of claims.

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