A new report ‘SAFE: Banishing Medication Errors in Secondary Care (Safeguard Against Frontline Errors)’ was launched in April by Omnicell UK & Ireland, a leading provider of automated healthcare and medication adherence solutions. It is part of an ongoing campaign to raise awareness and promote best practice standards of care for the management of medication to help drive change and improve patient safety across healthcare settings in secondary care. 

Earlier this year, the Department of Health found that in England 237 million mistakes occur at some point in the medication process. These errors cause serious issues for patient safety, but also places a significant cost burden on an already stretched NHS. The estimated costs to the NHS of avoidable adverse drug reactions is £98.5 million per year, consuming 181,626 bed days, causing 712 deaths and contributing to 1,078 deaths. Adverse drug events in England have previously been estimated to be responsible for 850,000 inpatient episodes and costing £2 billion in additional bed days.

The SAFE report, authored by a leading pharmaceutical expert, found that within secondary care settings the implementation of automated medication administration systems alongside ePMA systems would dramatically reduce the risk of medication errors. By putting the two systems in place together, trusts will be able to strengthen patient safety from the moment the drug is prescribed to when it is administered to the patient.  Over three quarters (79 per cent) of medication errors within secondary care happen during the administration process. It is vital that trusts put systems in place to safeguard against this. These errors are exacerbated by the increasing volume of work, staff shortages and the sheer rising number of patients accessing services.

Introducing electronic prescribing and medicines administration (ePMA) systems in hospitals has the potential to halve the risk of medication errors. However, in November 2017, just 35 per cent of acute trusts (where more than 80 per cent of inpatients’ prescriptions are written digitally), and less than 12 per cent of mental health organisations had introduced the necessary systems,

When using ePMA systems as a standalone process, patient safety is improved to a certain degree. However, it doesn’t protect against the nurse picking the wrong drug, the wrong dose, out of date stock from the drugs cupboard or administering medication to the wrong patient.

To help eradicate medication errors, a system to close the loop is also needed. This includes automated dispensing, electronic confirmation of patient identity and medication administration records. This approach to administering medication allows trusts to track everything back to the patient from the moment the medication is prescribed to when it is administered and ensures patient safety. 

Call for greater transparency

Some of the recommendations from the above report have already been realised – such as a call for greater transparency and a culture that learns from mistakes. However, Omnicell’s new report is calling for healthcare decision makers to go one step further and recognise that technology exists to provide a safety net for the over-stretched NHS – which could eradicate these medication errors altogether.

Just last year (2017), Omnicell launched a ‘SAFE in A&E’ report to highlight the key role automation plays in A&E departments to improve patient safety around medication management and compliance. The report aimed to encourage more trusts and policy makers to embrace ward-based pharmacy technology to create a system that can cope efficiently with increasing pressures and deliver a world-class health service. This year, the company is implementing a SAFE campaign among key opinion leaders within secondary care, care home and pharmacy settings to raise awareness of the impact of medication errors. The campaign aims to drive real change and awareness of the role that technology can play in tackling the problem. You can support the campaign with the hashtag #BanishMedErrors. For more information visit www.omnicell.co.uk. 

Paul O’Hanlon, Managing Director at Omnicell UK & Ireland, comments: “We have worked with trusts, nurses and pharmacists who have embraced new technology and improved their patient’s safety and experience. We hope our latest report, together with a free Standard of Care brochure, will help all areas of secondary care in the NHS share best practice and learning from medication-based automation technology. The Department of Health report, released earlier this year, raised awareness of the scale of medication errors across the NHS and highlighted the need for technology, which is already available, to help solve this issue. There is no excuse for poor medicines management within the NHS. The SAFE report recommends automation as a safety net for professionals managing medicines to ensure quality care remains at the forefront of our NHS.”

For a copy of the SAFE report or Standard of Care brochure contact marketinguk@omnicell.com