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Published on 16 June 2020

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Commentary: High level of medication errors in UK fortunately not clinically important

In a new analysis, a team from the Manchester Centre for Health Economics, estimated that 237,287,788 medication errors occur annually in the UK.

The authors estimated medication errors in all settings, for example, primary and secondary care, care homes and transition, that is, prescriptions issued at hospital discharge.

Data were collected by combining published error prevalence estimates reported in any recent systematic reviews. As this was also an economic analysis the authors sought to estimate harm based on the proportion of errors likely to cause minor, moderate or severe harm in each of the different settings and extrapolating data from studies exploring the burden of adverse drug events to an estimate of healthcare resource utilisation and mortality.

The results showed that of the 237.3 million annual errors, fortunately 72.1% were likely cause minimal harm, whereas 25.8% and 2% had the potential to cause moderate and severe harm respectively. These errors occurred at all stages of the medicine use process including prescribing (21.3%), transition (1.4%), dispensing (15.9%), administration (54.4%) and monitoring (7%) at an estimated cost to the NHS of £98,462,582.

The authors acknowledge that there was significant uncertainty in their estimates due to a lack of data linking avoidable adverse drug events to medication errors. They called for a system that linked errors and patient outcomes to be implemented to understand which errors cause the most burden.

Reference
Elliott RA et al. Economic analysis of the prevalence and clinical and economic burden of medication error in England. BMJ Qual Saf Epub 2020;0:1 – 10doi:10.1136/ bmjqs-2019-010206



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