In May 2012 the NHS Choices website published the highlights of a report that investigated the number of errors that GPs may be regularly making when prescribing medicines. The report found that prescription errors are relatively common – “1 in 20 has an error”  – but that they are usually minor.

The main findings of the study are outlined below:

  • 1 in 20 prescription items was associated with a prescribing or monitoring error
  • 1 in 550 prescription items was associated with a severe error
  • 1 in 8 of all patients had a prescription with an error
  • 4 in 10 patients aged 75 years or older had a prescription with an error
  • 30% of prescribing errors involved “incomplete information on the prescription”
  • 18% of prescribing errors involved dose or strength errors
  • 11% of prescribing errors involved incorrect timing of doses
  • The most common type of monitoring error was “failure to request monitoring” (69%)
  • 42% of errors were judged to be minor, 54% were considered moderate, and 4% severe

In most cases the errors had negligible consequences but in some cases (4%) had the potential to cause very serious harm.