Three in 10 drug-related deaths occurring in acute care settings are caused by omission, a study has revealed.

Joint research published last month by the University of Eastern Finland, King’s College London, University College London (UCL) and Imperial College London, showed that 31% of medication administration errors (MAEs) in English and Welsh acute care trusts are due to omitted medicine or ingredient.

In August, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) reported an increasing number of dispensing errors in community pharmacies, with wrong or unclear dosage accounting for 29% of mistakes.


Omitted drugs biggest MAEs factor


The study – which covered 229 MAE-related deaths in acute specialist and non-specialist trusts between 2007 and 2016 – found that omitted medicines were the biggest factors for MAEs.

Cardiovascular and nervous system drugs were recorded as the most common medicines involved in MAEs, accounting respectively for 20% and 10%. The study also highlighted that the highest number of medicine omissions took place in hospital wards (66%), and among patients aged 75 and over (42%).

The study authors said: ‘Each death caused by medication error is one death too many.

‘In order to prevent the most serious MAEs, additional studies and interventions should focus on dose omissions and administration of drugs to patients over 75 years old, as well as safe administration of parenteral anticoagulants and antibacterial drugs.

‘Checking patient allergies and undertaking required verification procedures before medication administration, as well as additional education for safe handling and administration of drugs should be mandatory’.


MAEs ‘common’


Professor Katri Vehviläinen-Julkunen from the University of Eastern Finland and one of the study authors argued that ‘medication administration errors are common’.

In February, researchers at the Universities of York, Sheffield and Manchester estimated that 237 million medication errors occur in the NHS every year.

According to research, medication omissions can be caused by staff shortages, delays in medication dispensing, patients' inability to take the medicine, and medication unavailability.

Professor Vehviläinen-Julkunen said: ‘Although all errors don’t cause harm to the patient, it is important to work to prevent especially those that do.

‘This requires sufficient human resources and competent staff, as well as technological and digital solutions that promote competence development among staff, and that ensure medication safety.’