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Prescribing errors in general practice

02 January 2022
9 min read
Volume 33 · Issue 1


Prescribing errors are relatively common in general practice. Jennifer McCutcheon provides an overview of common prescribing errors and how they can be prevented

Nurses, pharmacists and allied health professionals are increasingly becoming prescribers and many of them work autonomously in general practice. Prescribing professionals have a duty to understand what a prescribing error is, common examples of errors in practice, how they are prevented and how they can be investigated and reported should they occur.

It is estimated that every year in the NHS in England 237 million medication errors occur (Elliot et al, 2021); of these 21% are made during the prescribing stage and 38% are in primary care. Prescribing was introduced in legislation for nurses and pharmacists in a stepwise manner, culminating with full independent prescribing rights for nurses in 2006, with an aim of improving patient's access to medicines. The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMCa) data from March 2021 suggests that 50 693 of the 730 000 NMC nurse registrants are now independent or supplementary prescribers. There is a lack of data specifically on non-medical prescribing error rates in the general practice setting, likely due to the shorter length of time that non-medical prescribers have been in practice, and lack of prescribing error data overall in primary care. In this article we cover what a prescribing error is, the most common errors and how to investigate and report them.

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