Medication Safety: Are you sitting comfortably?

3 Jun

by Denham Phipps, Research Fellow in Medication Safety theme of the Greater Manchester PSTRC

Denham Phipps blog 3 June 14

While we university researchers are mainly intrepid and fearless, one thing that causes us trepidation is the prospect of being asked what we do for a living. “Research, you say? And what do you do research on?” The answer to that question could either start a conversation, or end it.

To those for whom the answer is “medication safety”, though, either outcome could speak volumes. Sometimes, this topic of conversation has come up with people who have actually experienced a medication error –an incorrect prescription from a doctor, maybe, or the wrong item from a pharmacy. (Of the 900 million or so prescriptions that we in England receive from GPs each year, some five percent are estimated to contain an error of some kind.[1] So, while errors are relatively infrequent, there are enough of them for us to be interested in reducing their occurrence). The people who have spoken to me about their experiences have expressed various feelings: relief that the error was spotted before any serious harm resulted (which it often is: https://gmpstrc.wordpress.com/2014/03/); amazement that an error should happen in the first place; concern that it could happen again, either to themselves or to somebody else.

I once got talking to a former RAF nurse who now works in a civilian hospital. She recalled how medicines were managed in her service days: no matter where in the world RAF medical staff were stationed, they could expect the system for storing, issuing and documenting medication to be the same. This was in contrast to her experience in civilian healthcare, where different organisations had their own systems, much to everyone’s confusion. She also talked about the problems that she encountered when, having spotted medication errors, getting the staff involved to recognise and take responsibility for them.

Our research topic, though, is sometimes a conversation killer. What does this tell us? We have already seen that the majority of prescriptions are turned around without any apparent problems, so for the many people who use GPs and community pharmacies it is just not something that they have had cause to think about. Medication safety matters to these people too, we suspect – but there may be other, more obvious concerns such as accessibility, availability and value for money.

What do you think? We on the Medication Safety theme are holding discussion groups with the general public. We want to find out your views and experiences about medication safety: what it means to you; what can go wrong; how healthcare professionals and service users stop things from going wrong; what you think should be done to improve medication safety. If you don’t get to join one of our discussion groups but have something you’d like to share, then feel free to drop me or Sally Giles a line.

[1] Investigating the prevalence and causes of prescribing errors in general practice: the PRACtICe study. http://www.gmc-uk.org/about/research/12996.asp

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