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Doctors’ poor prescriptions could severely harm tens of thousands

Doctors are responsible for prescription errors that could be causing tens of thousands of patients severe harm or death, according to pharmacists.Doctors' poor prescriptions could severely harm tens of thousandsPharmacy Voice, an industry group, has estimated pharmacists are picking up some 34,000 problems that could result in serious harm to a patient every year, and almost 10,000 more that could kill them.

About half of these are errors that appear to originate with the prescribing doctor, said Rob Darracott, chief executive of Pharmacy Voice.

He said instances that members had spotted included a patient mistakenly prescribed highly acidic wart drops for an eye problem; and another prescribed a version of penicillin despite being allergic to the antibiotic.

Putting wart drops into the eye could have caused blindness, he said, while a severe allergic reaction to penicillin could have resulted in death.

He said: “Pharmacies perform a range of vital functions that might lack glamour, and indeed usually go unnoticed, but which are no less important for that.”

Mr Darracott claimed only “a handful” of problems evaded pharmacists every year.

He clarified: “This is not about GPs failing – it is about teamwork in primary care working well.”

However, he said it would be extremely useful if doctors shared more information with them – specifically by letting them know the diagnosis so the pharmacist could put the prescription in context.

Pharmacists want access to patients’ summary care records – the synopsis of each medical file – which contains diagnosis information.  However, doctors are worried this risks breaching patient confidentiality.

Pharmacy Voice’s estimates were based on an audit of 20 million prescription items, dispensed by 4,409 pharmacies in one week. During that time pharmacists spotted 44,527 problems, including 527 that could have resulted in serious harm and another 148 potentially in death.

The ‘query rate’ was one in 450 prescriptions. Every year, pharmacists in England dispense 850 million items.

Dr Clare Gerada, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said it and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain had “a long-standing collaboration” and were “already making good progress in building closer working relationships between GPs and pharmacists to improve patient care”.

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