The continued dependence on paper prescriptions in the NHS continues to put patients at risk NHS managers and pharmacists were told at an iSOFT-organised conference on 20 October.
“The reliance on paper in this day and age is ridiculous,” said Steve Freeborn, a former NHS pharmacist and university lecturer. Speaking at the e-prescribing and medicines management (ePMA) Excellence Forum at Wembley, Freeborn said: “With a sharp rise in the number of drugs and mounting pressure on NHS staff, the risk of medication errors has never been greater.”
This is backed by new research from the University of Reading which shows that 4% of prescriptions in primary care include “significant clinical errors”. The risks double in hospitals, where 8.9% of medication orders have errors. Lead researcher Dr Rachel Howard says time and workload issues and knowledge of patients are among the main causes of drug-related errors. The physical and emotional health of the doctors is another factor, Dr Howard said.
Junior doctors remain the biggest culprits, according to Professor Tim Dornan of the University of Maastricht. “Mistakes are found in 8% of prescriptions written by junior doctors.” Prof Dornan said there would be uproar if plane landings failed at the same rate, but it appeared acceptable in healthcare.
Freeborn says that while NHS trusts accept a switch to an e-prescribing system would cut errors, most lacked the will to change. “The NHS has seen too many (e-prescribing) pilot schemes and too few wide-scale implementations. But once set-up, systems can not be allowed to fail otherwise it is near impossible to implement a second time.”
Alex Jennings of University Hospital Aintree agreed.
“The roll-out of e-prescribing is risky if delayed,” he added. “You need to roll-out as quickly as possible.”
Helen Bennett, assistant director of IT at Stockport NHS Foundation Trust, which is installing iSOFT’s ePMA, said careful planning and measurement are essential for a successful ePMA project. She said the trust is conducting an extensive data collection exercise to gauge current performance to demonstrate measureable improvements.
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