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What are the 12 most common medication errors in nursing in the UK?

A young woman holding a pill and a glass of water, preparing to swallow it.

Top 12 most common medical errors in nursing practice in the UK

Patient safety is a vital component of nursing care; the ultimate objective is to prevent preventable errors and damage to patients. A simple flaw in the administration and management of medication can put the life of the patient at risk; thus, preventing medication errors is vital to ensuring patient safety. In compliance with the Nursing and Midwifery Council's (NMC) 2018 Code, nurses must prioritise the needs and interests of those who use or require nursing services. To prevent medical errors, nurses need to ensure that they are very attentive and have presence of mind so as to reduce the likelihood of making mistakes. 

In this article, we will discuss medication errors in the UK and the most common types of medical errors that occur there. 

What is a medication error in the UK? 

Medication errors are Patient Safety Incidents (PSI) involving an error in the prescribing, preparing, dispensing, administering, monitoring, or advising of a medication. Medication errors can occur at any stage of patient care, from ordering to administration. 

From April 1, 2015, to March 31, 2020, NHS Resolution received 1,420 claims regarding medication-related errors. Of those claims, 487 were settled with damages paid, costing the NHS £35 million (excluding legal costs). 

10 common medication errors in nursing in the UK 

Many factors contribute to medication errors in nursing. Knowing which errors are most common will help the healthcare facility take preventive measures to ensure patient safety and positive patient outcomes. Following are the 10 most common medical errors in nursing in the UK: 

1. Giving the wrong medicine: 

Medication errors in nursing occur for various reasons and in diverse settings. Giving the wrong medication to patients occurs more frequently than anyone can imagine. Illegible prescriptions, faulty dispensing systems, or improperly labelled medications are a few reasons this medication error may occur. 

2. Wrong dosage of medication: 

One of the most common medical errors in nursing is when the wrong medication dose is administered. Nurses must understand their role in ensuring a safe dosage of medication is given to patients so as to ensure patient safety and outcome. 

3. Not adhering to the prescribed time for administration: 

When physicians or other practitioners write medication orders, the order should include the frequency interval at which the medication should be given. Nurses should know these medication schedules and adhere to the times and frequency. Giving medication before its time could lead to elevated drug levels, which could cause an overdose or other adverse reactions. Waiting too long between medication doses may cause decreased levels of the medication in the patient's system, resulting in a lack of effective results. 

4. Giving medication to the wrong people: 

Though all kinds of medication errors can be scary, one of the scariest is administering medication to the wrong patient. Even if a patient cannot communicate with you, healthcare facilities have protocols for nurses and other healthcare professionals to help verify patient identities and prevent any medical errors from occurring. 

5. Incorrect route of administration: 

Nurse medication errors may occur due to using the incorrect route of administration. The most common route for administration errors is associated with injectables. For example, nurses should administer antibiotic injections of Rocephin and Penicillin intramuscularly. This is a medication error if the nurse employs a too-short needle, resulting in a subcutaneous injection. 

6. Failure to check if a patient has medication allergies: 

Some people have allergies to certain drugs, whose severity can range from minor to major and can even be fatal. Failure to screen for patient allergies can rapidly result in serious health risks. If a person receives a medication they are allergic to, it can result in severe, possibly life-threatening adverse reactions or events. 

7. Failure to follow directions: 

Of all the medical errors in nursing, nurses should ensure this never occurs. Failure to adhere to administration instructions may result in severe consequences for patients and nurses. Therefore, nurses should verify orders and follow directions for proper medication administration. When nurses disregard the manufacturer's established administration guidelines, medical errors can also occur. Whether this error is the result of an oversight or a deliberate adjustment based on the nurse's discretion, it is essential that nurses make every effort to prevent this medication error in nursing. 

8. Administering medicine without patient consent: 

The presumption is that all patients have the capacity to consent to treatment unless it has been demonstrated otherwise. If a patient is capable, he or she has the right to decline treatment, including medicines, even if that might negatively affect their health and well-being. Nurses should respect their patient's decisions and not force any treatment. Moreover, nurses should also understand that medical treatment without a person's consent can result in legal action. 

9. Improper use of medicines: 

Drug misuse is another medical error that is seen as common. If a drug is used for a purpose other than what the manufacturer intended, it may also pose health hazards to the patient. Some medicines can be used only in certain situations, and when administered otherwise, they will have side effects. 

10. Missing a medical dose: 

Nurses should understand that their nursing career is very demanding while also providing crucial healthcare services to the community. It is common for nurses to have several patients to care for during any given shift, considering the current shortage of nurses and healthcare staff in the UK. One of the most common medical errors in nursing occurs when a medication dose is missed. This situation mainly occurs when the number of patients to care for is overwhelming or when there is an emergency and the nurses get distracted. 

11. Ignoring or overlooking patient medical histories: 

It is well known that nurses spend more time with patients, because of which often a nurse-patient relationship is built, and thus people feel more comfortable disclosing their medical history to nurses before any physicians. Some patients might not realise the importance of sharing their medical history, including details about medicines they are taking or have taken. This information will help the nurses understand which medicines they took previously, the side effects they have to face, and which medicines to avoid in the future. 

12. Substituting generic for name-brand without a physician's approval: 

Many nurses, care providers, and healthcare facilities allow the substitution of brand-name drugs with generic drugs. However, in some cases, doctors specify not to substitute or specify the brand name on medical prescriptions. In some cases, doctors prefer to use brand names only when using medications classified as having a narrow therapeutic index, such as some seizure medications. Nurses should never assume substitution is appropriate, as it can cause serious medication errors. 

These are some of the most common medical errors that can be found in the UK. 

If you are looking for qualified and skilled healthcare workers and registered nurses in the UK, Nurses Group is the best choice for your facility. We provide nursing staffing solutions to healthcare facilities throughout the UK to meet the needs of qualified nurse professionals. 

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