Medicines are a huge part of the NHS budget – around £1 of every £7 spent goes on drugs – but safety continues to be an issue, as these figures show:
• Every year, an estimated 237 million medication errors are made in England
• Of these, 66 million are potentially clinically significant and over 70 per cent occur in primary care
• Prescribing in primary care accounts for over a third of all mistakes that have the potential to be clinically significant
• Medication errors are thought to directly cause over 700 deaths each year and are a contributing factor in over 1,700 more
• Over 180,000 hospital bed days annually are believed to result from medication errors
• The cost of medication errors to the NHS is thought to be over £98m per year
• Error rates seem to be much the same in the UK as they are in other comparable health settings.
The World Health Organization made medicines the focus of its third Global Patient Safety Challenge. The goal of this programme is to halve severe, avoidable medication-related harm over five years, specifically by addressing the errors and unsafe practices that result from weaknesses in health systems, and making improvements at every stage of the medication process, including prescribing, dispensing, administering, monitoring and use.
Meanwhile, NHS England as a result of the WHO project is working on the recommendations made in two documents it commissioned: the first on the prevalence and economic burden of medication errors in England published by the policy research group EEPRU, and the second a Department of Health and Social Care report put together by a working group that highlighted a number of priority areas and called for the establishment of a medication error and safety programme.
The latter also pushed for the use of pharmacist-led information technology interventions (PINCER) in primary care in order to identify patients at risk from hazardous prescribing and closer working between pharmacists and GPs to mitigate the dangers. The document tasked the NHS Specialist Pharmacy Service with building an online repository of good medicine safety practice.
One easy thing that everyone can do is engage with the call for action of WHO’s global medication safety campaign. The message of “Know. Check. Ask” is simple and encourages healthcare professionals and patients to work together to ensure medication is prescribed, supplied and used safely.
Materials that can be displayed on both sides of the pharmacy counter can be downloaded on the WHO website. Banners, gifs and videos that can be used online and for in-store displays, plus other items such as t-shirts, badges and mugs to reinforce the message are also available.