As someone who uses health services regularly, the news that errors are frequently made in prescriptions comes as a great worry.
We simply have to trust our doctors. There are very few of us who have the in depth knowledge to know if a prescription for drug A should really have been one for the similar sounding drug B. Or to challenge the prescribed dosage as too high or too low.
The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) found that during one week, 10% of trainee doctors and 6% of consultants made prescribing mistakes.
Now, trainees may well make mistakes. That is understandable and perhaps even acceptable – as long as a system is in place to catch these errors.
But consultants are supposed to be the cream of their profession. They are the experts we are referred to by our GPs when specialist knowledge of a particular condition is required. So we should expect them to be far more accurate in what they do. A 94% accuracy rate simply isn’t good enough when errors can have such serious consequences for patients.
And this is not a new finding. The RCPE report supports previous studies by the General Medical Council that suggest as many as one in nine hospital prescriptions were wrong.
I was also concerned to find that there is no standard system for prescribing drugs in Scotland.
Each individual health board works in a different way, meaning that when doctors move to a new area, as happens frequently, they have to learn a new system. The RCPE says that this is part of the reason for prescription mistakes, and has called on the Scottish Government to rectify the situation.
President Neil Dewhurst, President of the RCPE, said: “Local variation in prescribing charts has existed for many years, but has not been addressed by successive governments and should now be given greater priority.
“Putting it simply, patients should expect a standardised system of prescribing regardless of which hospital in Scotland they are treated.”
Makes sense to me.
And it makes sense to those who run the health service in Wales too. They introduced a national prescribing system back in 2004.
Those of us who rely on a daily drug regime usually receive repeat prescriptions, which have a much lower probability of error. As long as it is the same as the last one we know that it should be fine.
But medications can be changed from time to time, which gives a risk of side effects in any case. So the thought of being given the wrong prescription and the result that this might have is a frightening one.
A national system of prescribing would reduce the number of mistakes made and bring comfort to many.
Work is underway to bring in one system across the UK. For all of our sakes let’s hope they are successful. And that a new way of prescribing is brought in very soon.