Medication errors are a serious health issue. It is “greater than ever before”

Medical errors have been addressed by our Observatory many times. It is a problem that fully affects biomedical ethics which can even lead to the death of the patient involved. Perhaps the more relevant was Medical errors are now the third cause of death in the United States.  In this sense, The Pharmaceutical Journal (UK), published an article titled We can do more to improve medicines safety for patients in the NHS. We extract from the article what in our opinion is more relevant for understanding this relevant biomedical issue failure in developed countries. The article says,

Around 1.1 billion prescriptions are supplied each year in primary care, and every day a mid-sized hospital supplies around 50,000 doses to its patients. As healthcare professionals, we don’t set out to make an error when delivering these medicines.

Medication errors serious health issue 

These incidents cause thousands of people harm, ranging from moderate to serious harm to death. Meanwhile, avoidable adverse drug reactions cost the NHS around £98.5m per year. Our understanding of the scale of the harm caused by medicine safety incidents is greater than ever before, so it’s time for the NHS to do more to prevent them. 

In February 2018, a comprehensive review of medication error-related harm estimated that 237 million errors occur every year in England and that 68 million of these cause harm (Manchester University study). While the harm may appear in one part of the health system, the cause (and most likely the solution) lies across the system.

The report clearly showed that significant error and harm occurs during prescribing and supply in primary care, and during administration in care homes and hospitals.  NHS Improvement and other central health bodies need to address this in their efforts to improve safety.”

Which medicines are commonly more involved in error?

The article continues “We can also learn from the National Reporting and Learning System about the kind of medicines commonly involved in error; in a national review of reported medication-related harms,

  • anticoagulants were, by some distance, the group of medicines most commonly associated with reported harm (see HERE). And back in 2004,
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and
  • diuretics were identified as the medicines most commonly involved in admissions to hospitals as a result of medicines harm.
  • The NSAID aspirin was the biggest culprit, and
  • gastrointestinal bleeds were the most common adverse drug reaction.

Medication errors is a serious health issue. What is being done by the WHO and every health system?

“The World Health Organization (WHO) has challenged every health system to halve severe and avoidable harm caused by medicines by 2022 (read HERE). Since the challenge was announced in 2018, NHS Improvement has been working to generate a list of national priorities and develop a program approach to improving medication safety. In January 2019, the importance of the medicines safety in the wider context of patient safety was confirmed in the ‘NHS Long-Term Plan’, which committed to “improve patient safety and reduce patient harm and the substantial costs associated with it through a new ten-year national strategy”, which will be published later in 2019; and to “design a new Medication Safety Improvement Programme” (The Pharmaceutical Journal, 2019).

Bioethical opinion

We do not need to highlight the ethical component that such carelessness entails, both for the patients’ safety and for the confidence of public opinion in doctors and the same health system.