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Hospital Horrors: Prescribing Errors Continue to Plague UK Patients

Submitted by on December 24, 2013 – 6:04 PM

If you or a loved one becomes ill or injured, it will often be a terrifying time, and admission to hospital should result in feeling relief that you’re in safe hands. However, if mistakes are made during your hospital stay the results can be severe, sometimes fatal. Studies such as those undertaken by the British Medical Journal and the British Pharmacological Society, among others, show that errors made in respect of prescription medication continues to be a serious problem in UK hospitals. In fact, the BMJ study across nine different hospital reports a huge 43.2% of 4,238 prescriptions containing errors. This is a shocking statistic when you take into account the terrible consequences that can occur following prescribing errors. In a European Medicine Agency 2013 workshop report on medication errors, a proposed definition of medication errors was put forward by Dr Jeffrey Aronson of the University of Oxford:

“A failure in the treatment process, whether through omission or commission, that leads to, or has the potential to lead to, harm to the patient.”

This definition highlights the most important effect of any errors that are made prescribing medication; the harm it can cause to the patient.

Results of Prescription Errors

Whatever the type of prescription error, whether it is a dose that’s too high, a dose that’s too low, an omission of a drug, the wrong drug completely or an incorrect combination of drugs, the effects on the patient can range from discomfort to fatality. If a drug is under-prescribed, whether through ignorance or concern over unfavourable effects, the effectiveness of the drug can be compromised. Conversely, over-prescription can cause adverse drug reactions or even an overdose in the patient. If medication is prescribed in error that the patient is allergic to, or that reacts badly with another medication the patient is on, the results can be potentially lethal.

Causes of Prescription Errors

There are various causes of prescription errors in UK hospitals, such as lack of knowledge on the part of the prescribing doctor or sometimes just mere carelessness. Prescribing doctors should be well-versed with every drug that they prescribe, as without this knowledge it’s possible to miss a potential reaction with other medication the patient is on, or prescribe a drug that’s unsuitable.

If communication between hospital staff fails, or is incomplete, it can be a case of ‘one hand not knowing what the other is doing’, and errors can be made. If incomplete information is given to the prescribing doctor about test results or previous courses of treatments, they may prescribe a drug that’s completely unsuitable for the particular patient.

In the same way, if a hospital has procedures that are over-complicated, healthcare staff may get confused and miss something vital when it comes to prescribing the correct medication in the correct doses. In hospitals where electronic prescription systems are not common or consistent, handwritten prescriptions can be misread, meaning a similarly named drug could be given in error, or an incorrect dosage be given.

What to do if it Happens to You

If you or a loved one suffers either physical or emotional harm due to a prescription error as a hospital patient, you may have a case for a personal injury claim for clinical negligence. For examples of clinical negligence and further information surrounding personal injury compensation claims, click here.

The standard time limit in the UK for bringing a personal injury claim is three years from the date of the injury, although if the injury isn’t immediately noticed, the three year period starts from when it becomes apparent. There can be other influencing factors on the amount of time you have to claim, but in order to make sure that you don’t lose out it’s essential to see an experienced solicitor as soon as possible. They’ll be able to furnish you with all of the relevant information and advise you on your chances of success. With a case of clinical negligence it must be proved that the patient’s injury was caused by the negligence of the healthcare provider, and in the case of a prescription error it may seem cut and dried. These cases, however, are usually powerfully defended, so advice from a firm of solicitors that specialise in these cases is essential.

Millie Whitehead researches medical malpractice. She frequently blogs about emerging concerns and healthcare issues.