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NHS medication mistakes: electronic dispensing systems are not the answer, says lawyer

Lawyer questions Jeremy Hunt's solution for avoiding medication mistakes in the NHS

26 February 2018

A leading solicitor has questioned Jeremy Hunt’s solution to avoiding the scale of medication errors blighting the NHS.

In a recent speech the Secretary of State for Health claimed the rollout of electronic prescribing systems in hospitals could help to reduce errors by 50%, but Suzanne White, a solicitor from law firm Leigh Day, said one of the keys problems lies in a chronic lack of investment which is crippling the NHS and leading to mistakes across the board.

"I welcome the acknowledgement of a significant and widespread problem with incorrectly prescribed medication, but I don’t believe the installation of electronic equipment in hospitals is the only solution.

"The new system is currently available at just three hospitals across the country, so I think the idea of this being the key to solving the problem perhaps has more merit as a media distraction from the real solution, which, as it so often does with the NHS, comes down to funding and having sufficient doctors, nurses and midwives in place to look after patients properly and have sufficient time to prescribe them the correct medication.

"Doctors and nurses make mistakes because of the unrealistic pressures they are expected to work under at the present time," added Ms White.

Research compiled from Sheffield, Manchester and York universities suggests that GPs, pharmacists, hospitals and care homes could be making 237 million errors a year - the equivalent of one mistake for every five drugs handed out.

The study said most caused no problems, but in more than a quarter of cases the mistakes could have caused harm.

The mistakes included the wrong medication being prescribed, incorrect doses being dispensed and delays in medication being administered.

Data from the study estimates that drug errors cause 700 deaths a year and could also be a factor in between 1,700 and 22,300 others.

In his speech, Mr Hunt said that a further aspect to helping to combat the problem was for NHS staff to be more open when they made mistakes.

Addressing this issue, Ms White said:

"Only recently it was reported that NHS services for children are substandard in every region of England due to shortages of nurses and safeguarding failures. In addition, we have a shortage of GPs, we require 3,500 midwives, and recent British Medical Association analysis showed that three quarters of medical specialisms face a shortage of doctors.

"From my experience these errors often occur when there is an issue with staff shortages.

"If Jeremy Hunt is serious about improving patient safety, he needs to ensure the government invest in the NHS and NHS staff," added Ms White.

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