Prescription change call to cut down on errors

A HEALTH forum has called for medics to use electronic prescribing devices in a bid to cut down on medication errors after figures showed there were 372 incidents in the space of a year.

Bosses at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust say they are currently looking into using machines but admit they are not there yet.

The number of errors are a small fraction of the estimated 12 millions times that medicines are administered by staff at hospitals in Hartlepool and Stockton and through community services.

The 2011 figures include incidents where a nurse cannot read the doctor’s writing, incidents where a higher does than prescribed is given and incidents where the wrong medication is given, but officials say that has only happened on a couple of occasions and there was no “significant harm” caused.

Hartlepool Borough Council’s health scrutiny forum met recently to discuss the medication errors.

Barbara Carr, assistant director of nursing and public and patient involvement, said: “The staff put their hands up if they have made a mistake and we want people to be open and honest and then we will of course be open and honest with the patient.”

The Trust’s error rate, which is based on 1,000 bed days is 3.94, lower than the national rate of 7.25 and lower than the regional average rate of between 3 to 6.8.

Officials say errors can happen at a number of steps from either the doctor prescribing the medication, the pharmacist dispensing it or the nurse administering it.

A report added: “The reason for encouraging reporting is not to look for blame. It is very much about understanding why these rare things happen, learning from them and putting in systems which will improve things in the future.”

Independent councillor Keith Fisher asked about using hand held devices which could print off the prescription so it was always clear and legible.

Mrs Carr said: “We are looking at electronic prescribing but we are not there yet.

“Other areas do use it but it is not without its problems.

“We are in the market to see if we can look at that.”

Labour councillor Pamela Hargreaves said there is always the risk of human error and said what was vital was how quickly mistakes are rectified.

Officials said the pick-up rate was very quick.

Labour councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, forum chairman, asked what was in place to combat the handwriting problem and Mrs Carr said they ask doctors to print rather than write long hand in clear black ink.

Other steps include all trainee doctors undertaking a practical prescribing test and if they do not achieve a pass they are not allowed to prescribe until they do.

Ward based pharmacists work with medical and nursing staff to ensure that prescription sheets are checked and nursing staff have introduced uninterrupted drug rounds.