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Published on 3 December 2009

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Pharmacies “safety net” for doctors

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Pharmacists, nurses and more experienced staff are being depended on to catch medication errors made by hospital doctors, according to a General Medical Council (GMC) report.

It says that some junior doctors believe these “safety nets” are so efficient they do not need to worry about their mistakes affecting patients.

A study at 19 hospitals in north-west England found that 11,077 mistakes were found by pharmacists in 124,260 medication orders over a seven-day period,

Of 50,016 orders written by junior doctors in their first year after graduating, 4,190 (8.4%) contained mistakes. Of 34,781 written by second-year junior doctors, 3,568 (10.3%) contained mistakes.

The error rate for registrars with three or more years of hospital experience was 8.3%, and 5.9% for consultants.

Says the report: “A safety culture was conspicuous by its absence from respondents’ discourses of their prescribing errors, the reported culture of their working environments and the reported actions of other doctors.”

It calls for a standardised prescription chart – the type that sits at the end of a patient’s hospital bed – to be introduced across England to reduce the number of errors.

Copyright Press Association 2009

General Medical Council



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