Headlines: January 26th, 2004

New guidelines have been introduced in the National Health service to reduce the risk to patients of being prescribed the wrong medication. It sets out ways of avoiding errors in prescribing, dispensing and administering medicines.The new guide follows an examination of the causes of most accidents involving medicines and it recommends changes in equipment and practices in an effort to cut the chances of harm to patients. In 2001 the government set a target of a 40 per cent cut in serious medication errors and the elimination of death or paralysis from wrongly administered spinal injections. That target recognised that the reasons for individual errors might be a complex mixture of human error and systems failure.

The latest guide identifies a number of areas where potential errors can be avoided through good practice. Primary Care Trusts will be expected to give direct responsibility for medicine safety to a named individual, such as the pharmaceutical advisor or clinical governance lead. PCTs will also have to ensure that medicine safety policies are in place for both primary and secondary care.

NHS trusts, the guidelines say, should also have robust systems in place. The roles of chief pharmacists should be put on a par with clinical directors to ensure this happens. The results of routine reviews of medication safety should be made available to Audit Commission inspectors.

National Patient Safety Agency chair Lord Philip Hunt said reducing the risk of medication errors was an early priority for the agency and it was already addressing many of the specific areas covered in the new document.

Building a safer NHS for patients: improving medication safety is at www.doh.gov.uk/buildsafenhs/medicationsafety