Doctors beware of prescribing pitfalls


Embargoed until 0001 on Wednesday 2 May 2012

The General Medical Council (GMC) has published the results of a major study into GP prescribing which found around one in 20 prescriptions issued to patients contains an error.

In what is the largest and most comprehensive study to-date on GP prescribing in the UK, the results show that, while doctors take prescribing seriously, researchers believe improvements can be made to reduce the error rate.

UK-wide medical defence organisation MDDUS welcomes the GMC’s study which highlights a number of risk factors in prescribing.

MDDUS medical adviser Dr John Holden says: “This study underlines the fact that, while prescribing errors are rare, they can have serious consequences for patient care. MDDUS supports the GMC’s move to improve prescribing standards and we hope this study will alert doctors to the prescribing pitfalls and encourage them to take extra care.

“MDDUS has dealt with a number of cases where doctors have faced fitness to practise proceedings regarding prescribing errors, many of which could have been easily avoided. In one case a doctor prescribed methotrexate daily instead of weekly to an arthritis patient who became seriously unwell and required hospital treatment.

“Other complaints relate to drugs that require close monitoring such as anti-depressants being issued as repeat prescriptions without sufficient patient follow-up and monitoring.

“These errors could have been avoided if robust prescribing systems had been in place to monitor patients and ensure dosage information is accurate.”

As well as preventing errors, the purpose of the study was to determine how common prescribing errors are and what types of errors occur. The findings reveal that there was an error in one in 20 prescriptions, with one in 550 associated with a severe error. 30 per cent of mistakes were due to incomplete information on the prescription, with 18 per cent relating to dose/strength errors and timings of doses accounted for 11 per cent.

“GPs work under extreme time pressure, so an effective computer system can help prevent errors,” adds Dr Holden.

“Doctors are obliged to prescribe responsibly and safely. This is especially important in cases involving drugs with potentially serious side effects. Doctors are advised to double check dosage, especially when prescribing unfamiliar drugs. Doctors should not rely on pharmacists to pick up prescribing errors.”

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

Full details of the report can be found on the GMC website.


For further information contact Richard Hendry on 0845 270 2034 or 07976 272266, or email

Note to editors

MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland) is a medical and dental defence organisation providing access to professional indemnity and expert medico- and dento-legal advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals throughout the UK. For further information on MDDUS go to

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