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Home > News > Improvements needed in prescribing drugs to children in hospital

1st February 2010

Improvements needed in prescribing drugs to children in hospital

Following on from a report by the NPSA (the National Patient Safety Agency) issued in September 2009 that medication errors has seen a year-on-year increase, a new study by the School of Pharmacy, University of London, and covering five London hospitals, has found that more than one in 10 prescriptions that hospital doctors write for children, contained mistakes.

Researchers observed 11 paediatric wards

This study is thought to be more accurate than previous ones as it included visits by researchers to the hospitals, and observations of 11 paediatric wards.

The study suggests that many of the mistakes made are due to pressures on medical staff to prescribe or administer drugs for which they have not received training or guidance.

Drugs never tested on children

Many drugs have never been tested on children, and prescriptions are typically based on a calculation for the dose based on the weight of each child. Frequently, a junior doctor may be on his first day on a children’s ward, and may prescribe the same dose as for an adult.

Mistakes picked up by the pharmacists

Of course, most mistakes are picked up by the pharmacists who cross-checks the prescriptions, but those that are not spotted could prove to be lethal. One of the authors of the study, Professor Ian Wong, even cited a case where a child was prescribed a dose of anti-convulsants that was 10 times higher than it should have been. This was on a weekend and fortunately, the pharmacist spotted the mistake on his return and stopped the administering before harm was done.

During the observations, there were even instances where the researchers intervened to stop the wrong dose being administered to a child.

Recommendations to reduce mistakes

Mr Wong stated that prescribing, mixing and administering drugs was extremely time-consuming, with severe consequences if they got it wrong. The study recommends several changes to improve the accuracy.

One recommendation is that pharmacists should make up the injections.

Another, perhaps more long-term recommendation by the authors, was that computers should be used to check calculations and electronic prescribing systems be widely introduced.

However, since the introduction of these systems is still a way off, all medical staff should be vigilant when prescribing and administering drugs for children.

Making a medical negligence compensation claim

If you or a family member has been affected by incorrectly prescribed drugs, or has received any medical negligence injury, please telephone us now on 0800 783 9019. Alternative, please complete one of our online compensation claim forms, and a representative will contact you as soon as possible.

Please go to our Costs and Risks section for information on how Clear Answers will handle your claim and funding.

Alternative funding arrangements may apply in Northern Ireland due to differing procedures and Law Society regulations.

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