Around one in 20 prescriptions written by doctors practicing in England contain errors, a UK study has found.

Researchers from the General Medical Council said that most errors were classed as mild or moderate, but one in every 550 of the sample of 1,777 prescription items was judged to contain a serious error.

The most common errors were missing information on dosage, prescribing an incorrect dosage and failing to ensure that patients received necessary monitoring through blood tests.

In the study, the medical records of 1777 patients in 15 practices were examined by pharmacists over a 12 month period.

The pharmacists found that one in five patients taking medicines had been given a prescription with an error on it, this figure rose to one in four in patients aged 75 and above who are on several drugs at one time.

Professor Sir Peter Rubin, chair of the General Medical Council, said: "GPs are typically very busy, so we have to ensure they can give prescribing the priority it needs. Using effective computer systems to ensure potential errors are flagged and patients are monitored correctly is a very important way to minimise errors. "

"Doctors and patients could also benefit from greater involvement from pharmacists in supporting prescribing and monitoring. We will be leading discussions with relevant organisations, including the RCGP and the CQC, and the Chief Pharmacist in the Department of Health to ensure that our findings are translated into actions that help protect patients," added Rubin.

Professor Tony Avery of the University of Nottingham’s medical school, who led the research, said few prescriptions were associated with significant risks to patients, but it is important that GPs do everything they can to avoid all errors.

"GPs must ensure they have ongoing training in prescribing and practices should ensure they have safe and effective systems in place for repeat prescribing and monitoring."


Photo: Pharmacists have found that one in four in patients aged 75 and above, who are on several drugs at one time, had been given a prescription with an error on it. Photo courtesy of: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul.