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Half of care home residents exposed to medication errors

Half of care home residents are at risk of harm from mistakes made in giving out their medication, research suggests.Half of care home residents exposed to medication errorsA study of 345 elderly people in residential and nursing care around England, which recorded all of the drugs they took over three months, found that 90 per cent were exposed to at least one error.

Researchers at the University of West England Bristol and the University of Warwick found that 52 per cent of those in the study were exposed to “more serious” problems, such as untrained staff trying to give them another patient’s medicine.

Experts say that many people have to be taken to hospital every year because of mistakes in medication administration, and so the NHS could save millions if these trips were avoided.

Some trusts have tried to stop nurses being distracted on drug rounds by making them wear bright red tabards printed with the message “do not disturb”, but these led to fears that they could leave other patients feeling ignored.

Prof Ala Szczepura of Warwick University said: “Older people in long-term residential care are clearly at increased risk of medication errors.”

Deidre Wild, a visiting research fellow at UWE Bristol, added: “The majority of residents are cared for in a residential home with no onsite nursing staff. In such homes the management of prescribed medication is undertaken by social care staff who may have had no formal training in safe practice.”

The study protocol of a cluster-randomised controlled trial of family-mediated personalised activities for nursing home residents with dementia was published online in the journal BMC Geriatrics, looked at 13 care homes in the south west, midlands and north west of England, and analysed 188,249 attempts to administer drugs by staff.

Each resident received nine different drugs on average and were given medication 206 times a month. Each resident experienced 6.6 potential errors, with the most common being an attempt to give drugs at the wrong time.

However experts say many of the problems could be avoided with new technology which uses a barcode system to alert staff to potential errors. Staff scan each patient’s barcode identifier then scan the drugs sent out by the pharmacy to check they are being given the right dose at the correct time.

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