Will GPs face medical negligence claims over prescription errors?

The General Medical Council has expressed concern at the large number of errors being made by GPs when writing out prescriptions.

The GMC conducted a random survey of GPs and prescriptions in England and discovered that about 5% of the prescriptions contained an error. On the whole, the errors were minor, but one in every 550 prescription items contained a serious mistake, which could result in a claim for medical negligence.

Common errors included missing information regarding dosage, incorrect dosage and not ensuring follow up monitoring through blood tests.

Dr John Holden from the MDDUS explained that errors on prescriptions could be extremely dangerous for patients. He went on to say that the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland had dealt with fitness to practice proceedings against a number of doctors because of easily avoided prescription errors.

He cited an example of a GP who prescribed a drug to an arthritis patient and recorded the dosage as daily instead of weekly. The patient became seriously ill and needed to receive hospital treatment.

The GMC conducted the research in conjunction with the University of Nottingham. The final report recommended a number of steps that could reduce errors, such as extra training for GPs in prescribing, better use of computer systems and giving pharmacists a greater role in supporting GPs.

Professor Tony Avery, the leader of the research, said few prescription errors led to an increased risk to the patient, but we must do everything possible to eliminate errors completely. GPs need to have continually training in prescribing and practices should make sure they implement safe, effective systems for repeat prescriptions and monitoring.

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