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Discharge medication errors in England could be cut by up to 40%

Medication errors when people go into or are discharged from hospital in England could be reduced by nearly 40% with the introduction of new digital information standards being rolled out this year, say researchers.

Analysis by a team at the University of Manchester found that medication errors would be cut from 1.8 million to 1.1 million (39%) by the easier sharing of information across hospital and GP systems.

They also calculated that there could be around 12,000 fewer people experiencing harm from their medicines, with 14,000 fewer days spent in hospital at a saving to the NHS of £6.6m.

But they stressed, there still needs to be a healthcare professional, usually a pharmacist, doing medicines reconciliation.

The standards, which first came into effect in October 2021 with NHS organisations having to show compliance by this year, should make that work easier and quicker so more patients can have their medicines checked properly, they added.

A report commissioned by NHS England looked at published research on medication errors in the UK as well as evidence from other countries where similar changes to digital information standards have been made.

Overall, they estimated that around 31,000 people experience harm from a transition medication error, with over half of these happening to mistakes made at hospital admission.

They also estimated that such errors lead to 45 deaths a year, 20 of which could be prevented when the standards are introduced.

This is not just a UK issue, the researchers said. Errors relating to medicines missed off the list, extra ones added, or wrong doses written down are common worldwide, and the World Health Organization has made it a priority for health services to find ways to reduce them, they added.

Speaking to Hospital Pharmacy Europe‘s sister publication Pulse, study lead Professor Rachel Elliott, professor of health economics, said the standards were being rolled out this year but it was a very complex process with lots of different stakeholders.

She added: ‘Medicines reconciliation done at admission and discharge has been shown to reduce medication errors. This is not about replacing that process but it is about making it easier to access the information which at the moment is all over the place and all the different systems can’t talk to each other. It is enabling the human element to be done more quickly.’

This article was originally published by our sister publication Pulse.