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Prescription errors are ‘relatively common’

GPs may be regularly making mistakes when prescribing medicines, according to a high-profile report published on Thursday by the General Medical Council. The report found that mistakes in areas such as dosage and timing were common, although it also found that “serious” errors were unusual

The study examined over 6,000 prescriptions issued at a range of GP surgeries in England. It looked at factors such as dosage, record keeping and giving patients appropriate check-ups to assess the impact of their medication.

Researchers found prescription errors had been made for one in eight patients overall, and four in ten patients over 75 years of age. In all, 1 in 20 prescriptions written featured an error. Of the errors, 42% were judged to be minor, 54% moderate and 4% severe.

The researchers say that despite these concerns, they also found that:

  • GPs take their prescribing seriously and use a range of strategies to avoid serious errors.
  • General practices do have various systems in place to help reduce risks of error.
  • Overall, GPs thought their computer systems helped to reduce the risks of error, even though they also thought there was scope for improvement.

In response to the study, the General Medical Council has recommended several strategies to reduce the risk of errors. These include:

  • Improving GP training and professional development in the area of safe prescribing
  • Improved procedures governing clinicalpractice in this area, such as conducting audits of whether prescriptions have been appropriate
  • Effective use of clinical computer systems in the area of safe prescribing, including better training of staff, alerts to highlight potential hazardous prescriptions and alerts to remind GPs of the need for blood test monitoring for certain drugs