There has been a ‘significant decrease’ in the number of patient safety incidents reported to the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) during lockdown, the organisation has said.

The number of patient safety incidents reported to the NPA between April and June decreased by 44.5% when compared with the three months leading up to lockdown in the UK.

Similarly, compared to the same quarter last year, reports of patient safety incidents had also decreased by 40.6%, the NPA medication safety update, published this week, revealed.

An NPA spokesperson said the number of reports might not be the result of fewer incidents, but instead, a lack of reporting.

‘This is a significant reduction in the number of incidents being reported. This may be due to the increased workload and pressure on pharmacy teams due to the Covid-19 pandemic, whereby pharmacy teams may not be prioritising reporting of patient safety incidents, or due to other, as yet, unknown reasons.

They added: ‘We continue to raise awareness of the importance of reporting incidents.’

Delivery and collection errors

Despite there being no option on the reporting platform for pharmacy teams to highlight Covid-19, or pressures relating to it, as a contributing factor to any patient safety incident, 10.3% of the incidents reported included Covid-19 work pressures as important factors contributing to incidents.

According to the report, one of the only types of incidents to increase was delivery and collection errors, which increased by 3% from last quarter, accounting for 10% of incidents reported.

This increase in delivery errors occurred during the months in which the NHS England’s community pharmacy pandemic delivery service was commissioned; which started on 9 April and ended nationally in July.

The service meant thousands more medicine deliveries were made between April and July than in months previously.

During the same period, the number of prescribing errors in the pharmacy reported dropped by 2% from the previous quarter.

Medication errors

In the report, the NPA stressed the importance of reporting prescribing errors, arguing that ‘increased reporting allows identification of trends and increases learning’.

Most incidents reported this quarter were the result of medication errors; these accounted for 67% of errors overall. These incidents involved giving patients the wrong strength of medication, the wrong medication and wrong formulation.

Over half (60%) of all incidents reported caused no harm to patients, and 25% were considered a ‘near miss’. There were no reports submitted where the degree of harm to a patient was reported as ‘severe’ or ‘death’.

Huge pressures on pharmacy teams

Claire Anderson, chair of the English Pharmacy Board, said the ‘unprecedented demand’ for pharmacy services during Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown has put ‘huge pressures’ on pharmacy teams to ‘provide safe and effective care’.

‘These results [from the NPA report] show that urgent action is required to better support staff to make it easier to report these incidents.

‘We should all be listening to pharmacists on the frontline so we can learn from the lessons and experiences of the pandemic.

‘Pharmacy teams must get the support they need to help them continue to deliver the highest standards of patient care, particularly during pandemic and emergency situations. We are continuing to discuss these issues with the government to further support our profession.’