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APTUK responds to Secretary of State for Health’s measures to improve patient safety

Published: 25th February 2018

A study carried out by researchers from the Universities of Sheffield, York and Manchester found NHS medication errors could be playing a role in more than 22,000 deaths a year in England.  An estimated 237 million medication errors occur annually at any point at which a patient comes into contact with a medicine (prescribing, dispensing, administering and monitoring).  Prescribing errors and dispensing errors account for 21% and 16% respectively, while 54% were “administration errors”, the report’s authors said.  The researchers found that almost 75 per cent are unlikely to result in harm to patients. Those errors that are clinically significant, with potential to cause moderate or severe harm, constitute 25.8 per cent and 2.0 per cent of overall errors, respectively. However, more than 700 people die every year as a direct result of adverse drug reactions (ADRs). The authors said error rates in the UK are similar to those in other comparable health settings such as the US and other countries in the EU.  Mark Sculpher, Professor of Health Economics at the University of York, said: “Although these error rates may look high, there is no evidence suggesting they differ markedly from those in other high-income countries. Almost three in four errors would never harm patients and some may be picked up before they reach the patients, but more research is needed to understand just how many that is.” Fiona Campbell, University of Sheffield said that “Measuring harm to patients from medication errors is difficult for several reasons… but now that we have more understanding of the number of errors that occur we have an opportunity to do more to improve NHS systems.”

In response, Jeremy Hunt, Health and Social Care Secretary yesterday launched new measures to reduce patient harm and improve safety in the NHS. These include new systems linking prescribing data in primary care to hospital admissions so the NHS can see if a prescription was the likely cause of a patient being admitted to hospital; new defences for pharmacy staff if they make accidental medication errors rather than being prosecuted for genuine mistakes, and accelerating the introduction of electronic-prescribing systems across more NHS hospitals this year with a £75 million investment to do so.   Currently only a third of trusts have a well-functioning e-prescribing system.

Responding to the research, Tess Fenn, President of the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK (APTUK) said, patient safety is paramount and is at the heart of APTUK and the pharmacy profession.  Pharmacy Technicians as part of the Pharmacy team have a vital role to play in preventing medication errors, through intervention and safe practice.  Our role contributes to minimising the risk to patients every day across all care settings and sectors of the profession.  APTUK are committed to enhancing patient safety culture through promoting quality systems in all of the services provided to patients.  APTUK have published ‘Professional standards for the reporting, learning, sharing, taking action and review of incidents’ that have been jointly developed by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Pharmacy Forum of Northern Ireland.   The standards aim to provide guidance to support the pharmacy team in engaging and being proactive in improving patient safety by sharing and learning from all incidents including dispensing errors. 

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) said it “strongly agrees” that “it is vital to have a learning culture across healthcare”. Chief Executive Duncan Rudkin said  “We will continue our work to promote a culture of openness, honesty and learning across pharmacy, and we will be urging everyone who employs pharmacy professionals or works within pharmacy to do the same,”.

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