NHS faces potentially serious problems from wrong prescriptions on the NHS
Junior doctors on average fill out five or six prescription forms during their whole time in medical school only to have to complete dozens on their first day on the wards.
The inadequate preparation helps contribute to almost one in 10 prescriptions containing errors that could harm patients, it was said.
Now the British Pharmacological Society (BPS) is calling on the doctors to take an exam called the National Prescribing Assessment before being qualified.
They also want a “prescribing simulator” to be introduced to the curriculum so that medics are better prepared when they start in hospitals.
Professor Simon Maxwell, chairman of the BPS, said: “Everybody thinks that the system should and can be overhauled.
“We would not accept this kind of error rate in other industries such as aviation. It is a recipe for problems.”
The call for change, outlined in a blueprint by the BPS, comes after the General Medical Council revealed that 10 per cent of all prescriptions issued by doctors contained errors.
The mistakes included omitting drugs, wrong doses, not taking account of a patient’s allergies, illegible handwriting or ambiguous orders.
When the hospital doctors were interviewed about their mistakes, some admitted that they used pharmacists or nurses as a “safety net” to correct them afterwards.
The most senior doctors made the fewest mistakes, while doctors in their second year after qualifying made the most, it was found.
In the study, 124,260 prescriptions were checked by pharmacists in 19 hospital trusts in north-west England and 11,077 errors were detected.
While doctors are trained in a “piecemeal way” on symptoms and treatments, they rarely actually fill out a prescription forms before they start work, said the BPS.
A recent survey showed that in training they filled out as little as one a year whereas on the job that jumped to 50 or 60 a day.
That meant that doctors were ill prepared, it concluded.
Prof Maxwell, and his chairman Dr Jeff Aronson, said that it was hoped that the new assessment would be ready for the 2011 intake of medical students.
It was also hoped that an online training programme – including a prescription simulator complete with virtual patients – would be ready by the following year.
Prof Maxwell said: “It doesn’t take to much of a wrong dose or too long for the monitoring to be left before there are potentially serious problems. There is a big push now to eliminate this high risk.”