40,000 NHS Drug Errors Logged in a Year

More than 40,000 medication errors are made in the NHS in a year, it was revealed today, and while most mistakes lead to no ill effects, 2,000 cause moderate to severe harm to patients. The figures have been collated by the National Patient Safety Agency from reports of mistakes in the dose or type of drug given to patients and submitted to the agency by doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff. The statistics inevitably underestimate the problem to a degree since not all errors are reported.

The NHS’s healthcare commission, which asked for the figures to be compiled for its review of medicines management published today, said more needed to be done to reduce the number of potentially harmful mistakes.

The figures from the NPSA show that about 80% of mistakes (amounting to 32,000 drug errors) caused no harm to the patient, but 15% caused a low degree of harm and 5% (2,000 drug errors) caused moderate or severe harm.

The commission’s review looks at medicine management in all 173 NHS trusts in England, the first of a series of performance reviews that will culminate in an overall rating for each trust in October. Only 18 of the trusts were rated “excellent” in the way they managed medicine; 70 were “good”, 73 were “fair” and 12 were considered “weak”.

Trusts labelled excellent included Airedale NHS trust and Barnsley hospital NHS foundation trust, in Yorkshire, as well as Essex Rivers healthcare trust, and Guy’s and St Thomas’s in London. Those said to be weak included South Warwickshire general hospitals trust, the Royal Cornwall hospitals trust, North Middlesex University hospital trust, and Mid Staffordshire general hospitals trust.

The review looked at 21 aspects of medicine management. Some findings were positive; for instance, 40% of trusts used antibiotics prudently to curb MRSA infections. But the commission said patients should be helped to understand the side-effects and purpose of drugs.