World Patient Safety Day- Why the UK must do more to tackle medication errors
Every person will at some point in their life, take medications to prevent or treat illness. Medication is a fundamental part of our healthcare system, however, it has the potential to cause serious harm, sometimes even death if incorrectly stored, prescribed, dispensed, administered or if monitored insufficiently.
Medication errors are a leading cause of avoidable harm in health care across the world. Medication errors occur when weak medication systems and human factors such as fatigue, poor environmental conditions or staff shortages affect the safety of the medication use process. Post-COVID pandemic, we run the risk of further exacerbating the risk of medication errors as the NHS begins to tackle the backlog, and staff are placed under further pressure. Therefore, it is now more important than ever that we do more to protect the NHS, its staff and its patients.
This year on Saturday 17th September we marked World Patient Safety Day. The Day brought together patients, families, caregivers, communities, health workers, healthcare leaders and policy-makers to show their commitment to patient safety. The focus was “medication without harm”.
Launched in 2017, medication without harm called on stakeholders to prioritise and take action in key areas associated with significant patient harm due to unsafe medication practices, with the aim of reducing severe avoidable medication-related harm by 50% by 2022. Data doesn’t exist to measure if this target has been achieved yet however since 2017, financial claims of medication errors in England have been increasing.
Medication Errors in the UK
A staggering 237 million medication errors occur in the United Kingdom each year and most tragically is the 1,700 deaths associated with them. 
From 2015 to 2020, NHS Resolution has calculated that medication errors have cost the NHS over £100 million. Errors are made at every stage of the medication management process with over half (54%) made at the point of administration, approximately 1 in 5 made during prescribing (21%), with dispensing accounting for 16% of the total.
Healthcare systems are investing in technology to reduce medication errors; yet to date, we have only seen a decrease of 7% industrywide.
What does the future look like?
According to industry experts, the problem lies in the gaps between isolated systems and processes, with the average hospital having 16 different informatics systems. Interoperability of digital systems has become more important than ever.
The NHS employs c.1.2 million people, and at present 1:12 posts are vacant. Automation has the potential to ease the burden on staff who are already struggling with workloads, and drive down the number of errors that occur at each stage of the process.
BD have changed their approach to medication management to enable greater interoperability with their own existing systems and 3rd party providers such as Electronic Health Records and e-prescribing businesses. Our technologies have in built automation which can highlight and prevent healthcare workers from making human errors. This includes the ability to record and track data so continual improvements can be made.
If the UK is to successfully reach the WHO target, and lead the way in reducing medication errors, healthcare organisations and healthcare providers need to work together to ensure staff and patients can benefit from the medication safety features technology offers.
 Elliott RA, Camacho E, Campbell F, et al. Prevalence and economic burden of medication errors in the NHS in England: Rapid evidence synthesis and economic analysis of the prevalence and burden of medication error in the UK. Manchester, United Kingdom: Policy Research Unit in Economic Evaluation of Health & Care Interventions (EEPRU); 2018
 Parliamentary Question, NHS: Negligence. September 2020. Available at: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2020-09-11/88854/
 Samal L, Dykes PC, Greenberg JO et al. Care coordination gaps due to lack of interoperability in the United States: a qualitative study and literature review. BMC Health Services Research. 2016; 16(1).
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