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GP prescribing – a good standard but improvement possible – University of Reading

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GP prescribing – a good standard but improvement possible

Release Date 03 May 2012

A major study of GP prescribing, including research from the University of Reading, has found that while the vast majority of prescriptions written by family doctors are appropriate and effectively monitored, around 1 in 20 contains an error.

Researchers looking at a sample of GP practices in England found that where there were errors, most were classed as mild or moderate, but around 1 in every 550 prescription items was judged to contain a serious error. The most common errors were missing information on dosage, prescribing an incorrect dosage, and failing to ensure that patients got necessary monitoring through blood tests.

The research, commissioned by the General Medical Council, is the largest-scale study of its kind. It provides an important insight into how errors in prescribing come about. Researchers say improvements can be made to reduce the error rate.

The research recommends a greater role for pharmacists in supporting GPs, better use of computer systems and extra emphasis on prescribing in GP training.

Dr Rachel Howard, of Reading's School of Pharmacy, who was a co-author of the research, said: "The study has identified that 1 in 20 items prescribed in general practice contain errors, although only a small fraction (1 in 550 items) have the potential to cause severe harm.

"The causes of these errors are diverse, as are the strategies which general practices employ to reduce the risk of medication errors. General practices could reduce the risk of medication errors occurring by using general practice pharmacists for error trapping and developing safer systems of working."

Commenting on the research, Professor Sir Peter Rubin, Chair of the General Medical Council, said: "GPs are typically very busy, so we have to ensure they can give prescribing the priority it needs. Using effective computer systems to ensure potential errors are flagged and patients are monitored correctly is a very important way to minimise errors.

"Doctors and patients could also benefit from greater involvement from pharmacists in supporting prescribing and monitoring. We will be leading discussions with relevant organisations, including the RCGP and the CQC, and the Chief Pharmacist in the Department of Health, to ensure that our findings are translated into actions that help protect patients."


For more details or interview requests please contact Pete Castle at the University of Reading on 0118 378 7391 or

Notes to editors

The University of Reading is ranked among the top 1% of universities in the world (THE World University Rankings 2011-12), is among the top 20 universities in the UK for research funding, and is rated by students as having the joint best campus environment in the UK (THE Student Experience Survey).

The School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy at the University of Reading is a multi-discipline School with research and teaching activities covering a broad range of science. Degrees are offered in Pharmacy, Chemistry, Food Science, Food Science with Nutrition and Food Technology. Research activities include pharmacology, drug design, development and delivery, functional foods, nutrition, flavour chemistry, polymer and nanoscience, atmospheric chemistry and the physics of surfaces.

Dr Rachel Howard, of the Reading School of Pharmacy, University of Reading, won the 2011 UKCPA/Pfizer Patient Safety Award at the UK Clinical Pharmacy Association/Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists joint conference in 2011 for her work on the PINCER project, the findings of which were reported in February 2012 in The Lancet.

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