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Insulin safety: what is all the fuss about?

02 November 2020
10 min read
Volume 31 · Issue 11

Abstract

Errors in the prescribing, dispensing and administration of insulin can cause serious harm. Anne Cartwright raises awareness of the risks

In 2010 National Patient Safety Alerts produced a rapid response report ‘Safer Use of Insulin’ in response to an increasing number of medication incidents leading to severe harm or death as a result of errors with insulin therapy. In 2017 the World Health Organization launched a global initiative to reduce avoidable medication error by 50% over 5 years. This article aims to raise awareness of the risks of insulin therapy, the common mistakes that can be made in the prescribing, dispensing and administration of insulin, and to inform health professionals who are involved in caring for people on insulin therapy how to reduce the risk of potential harm.

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas by the islets of Langerhans (beta cells) and is essential for life. The lack or relative lack of insulin production results in raised blood glucose levels and causes diabetes. The prevalence of diagnosed diabetes in the UK is estimated at 4.8 million people, approximately 8% type 1 and 90% type 2 (Diabetes UK, 2020). Rates of insulin therapy in the UK continue to rise and approximately 30% of people with diabetes are treated with insulin – this includes people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes (Lipska et al, 2017).

In 2010 National Patient Safety Alerts (NPSA) produced a raid response report, Safer Use of Insulin, with regards to the increasing number of serious incidents leading to severe harm or death related to insulin therapy. Unfortunately, 10 years on we are still experiencing patient harm as a result of medication errors with insulin (England and NHS Improvement, 2019), with medication errors related to the administration of insulin and inaccurate prescribing being the commonest errors.

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