Jeremy Hunt’s plans to reduce prescribing and medication errors

Adobe Spark (2)A new initiative aimed at reducing prescribing and medication errors across the NHS has been announced by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Hunt said medication-related errors are responsible for 5–8% of hospital admissions. This is due to 1 in 12 prescriptions involving mistakes relating to dosage, course length or type of medication. With just under  150 prescriptions handed out in primary care every second, Hunt has called the potential for errors ‘huge’.

Writing in the Health Service Journal, he said:

‘Up to 1 in 12 prescriptions may include a mistake and whilst we’re lucky most don’t cause harm to patients, there is more we can do to tackle the problem and make the NHS safer…That’s why I’ve launched a new scheme working with the NHS to reduce these errors and protect patients.’

According to Hunt, the scheme will explore a number of areas where he believes the NHS ‘can do better’. This includes improving the way that technology, such as electronic prescribing, is used, to ensure prescriptions are processed more efficiently; re-evaluating the way that patients are informed and educated about their medicines, to look along the pathway from prescribing to administration and monitoring; supporting 7-day clinical pharmacy services, where possible, in acute hospitals; and providing pharmacist support for care homes and GPs.

Hunt also said the programme will look at how the transfer of information about medicines when patients move between care settings might be improved, as it is during these transition points when things can often go wrong.

According to the Department of Health, the programme is likely to be launched later this year or early next year. It is aimed at helping the NHS meet the World Health Organization’s global patient safety challenge, which hopes to reduce severe avoidable medication-related harm by 50% globally in the next 5 years. An expert group is being put together to help scope the programme and establish how to improve patient safety.

Speaking at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Annual Conference, Steve Brine MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Public Health and Primary Care), confirmed how Jeremy Hunt will be working with the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, Keith Ridge, to tackle the challenge of prescribing and medication errors:

‘Studies currently indicate that up to 8% of prescriptions have a mistake in dosage level, course length or medication type—a risk which the WHO identifies as a leading cause of injury and avoidable harm in healthcare systems across
the world.’

How might this affect nurses?

While the initiative is likely to predominantly affect GPs, it will also have an impact on the 70 000 qualified nurse and midwife prescribers. The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) recently launched a consultation on proposals for nurses and midwives to prescribe earlier in their careers.

The proposals, if implemented, would enable nurses and midwives to gain prescribing practice experience as soon as they qualify. They would, therefore, do the prescribing training as part of their degree so that they have more of an understanding when they graduate.

It is unclear how this may affect patient safety or the number of medication errors carried out by nurses. Nurse Prescribing contacted the NMC, but as their proposals are only in the consultation phase, they said they were unable to comment at this time.

Deborah Robertson, Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader in Non-medical Prescribing at the University of Chester highlighted how nurse prescribers are very aware of the risk of prescription errors, and that best practice is needed to ensure errors are minimised:

‘Nurse prescribers are already very conscious of the risk of prescription errors and in prescribing education—we spend a good deal of time ensuring that they know the legalities of prescription writing as well as the need for best practice advice to ensure the minimisation of errors.’

‘We always reiterate the benefits of team working in prescribing practice and establishing good relationships between prescribers and dispensing pharmacists to ensure prescribing errors are picked up in a timely manner and how to avoid confrontation. This also highlights the need for ongoing continuing professional development in all areas of prescribing practice.’

Taken from Nurse Prescribing, published November 2017.


Royal Pharmaceutical Society updates prescribing competency framework

Adobe Spark (1)The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS, 2016) has published an update to the Competency Framework for all Prescribers to ensure health professionals prescribe safely and effectively.

Originally published in 2012, the framework was developed to offer a common set of competencies for prescribing, regardless of professional background. As a result, it is relevant to all prescribers, including doctors, pharmacists, nurses, dentists, physiotherapists, optometrists, radiographers, podiatrists and dietitians. However, the framework should be contextualised to reflect different areas of practice and levels of expertise.

Ash Soni, President of the RPS, said:

‘Both the number of medicines prescribed and the complexity of medicine regimens are increasing. The challenges associated with prescribing the right medicines and supporting patients to use them effectively should not be underestimated.

‘There’s lots of evidence to show that much needs to be done to improve the way we prescribe and support patients in effective medicines use. This guide will be invaluable and I’m delighted the RPS has coordinated the update.’

The initial framework was published by the National Prescribing Centre and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). For the update, the RPS was approached by NICE and Health Education England to carry out the work on behalf of all prescribing professions. Additionally, the RPS was asked to ensure the framework had UK-wide applicability.

A project steering group of prescribers across all professions and patients updated the framework. This involved a 6-week consultation of the draft policy, where hundreds of organisations and individuals responded.

The framework has been endorsed by the UK’s Chief Pharmaceutical Officers—Keith Ridge, Rose Marie Parr, Andrew Evans and Mark Timoney—who said:

‘The single competency framework provides a means for all prescribers to become equipped to support patients to achieve the best outcomes from their medicines.

‘This update will ensure individuals can continue to benefit from access to resources which help them continually improve their practice and work more effectively.

‘We commend the updated framework and encourage prescribers, professional bodies, education providers and regulators to use it to support their role in delivering safe and effective care.’

How the competencies are separated

The framework comprises 10 competencies split into two areas: the consultation and prescribing governance. Within each of these competency areas, statements describe the activity or outcomes that prescribers should be able to demonstrate.

The consultation

The first competency concerns assessing the patient. It promotes taking an appropriate medical, social and medication history, before undertaking an appropriate clinical assessment.

The second competency involves the prescriber considering the options for the patient. This includes both non-pharmacological and pharmacological approaches to treatment, and weighing up the risks and benefits to the patient of taking medicine.

The third competency is about reaching a shared decision with the patient/carer, so the patient/carer can make informed choices and agree on a plan that respects the patient’s preferences.

The fourth competency is the prescribing itself. The framework states the medicine should be prescribed only with ‘adequate, up-to-date awareness of its actions, indications, dose, contraindications, interactions, cautions, and unwanted effects.’ Where appropriate, medicines should be prescribed within relevant frameworks, such as local formularies or care pathways.

The fifth competency concerns providing information to the patient/carer about their medicines. This includes what the medicine is for, how to use it, possible unwanted effects and how to report them, and expected duration of treatment.

The sixth and final competency in the area of consultation is monitoring and reviewing. Here the prescriber should establish and maintain a plan for reviewing the patient’s treatment. The effectiveness of treatment and potential unwanted effects should be monitored.

Prescribing governance

The seventh competency, and first under the area of prescribing governance, concerns prescribing safely. It highlights that the prescriber should prescribe within their own scope of practice and recognise the limits of their own knowledge and skill.

The eighth competency comprises prescribing professionally, and ensuring the prescriber maintains confidence and competence to prescribe. This includes accepting personal responsibility for prescribing and understanding the legal and ethical implications.

The ninth competency focuses on improving prescribing practice through reflection. It also stresses the importance of acting on feedback and discussion.

The tenth and final competency involves prescribing as part of a multidisciplinary team to ensure continuity of care across care settings. Part of this concerns establishing relationships with other professionals based on understanding, trust and respect.

Putting the framework into practice

The framework can be used for a variety of reasons by prescribers to help them improve their performance and work more effectively. The following examples are highlighted in the framework:

  • To inform the design and delivery of education programmes; for example, through validation of educational sessions (including rationale for need) and as a framework to structure learning and assessment
  • To help health professionals prepare to prescribe and provide the basis for ongoing education and development programmes, continuous professional development and revalidation processes. For example, use as a framework for a portfolio to demonstrate competency in prescribing
  • To help prescribers identify strengths and areas for development through self-assessment, appraisal and as a way of structuring feedback from colleagues
  • To inform the development of education curricula and relevant accreditation of prescribing programmes for all prescribing professions
  • To provide professional organisations or specialist groups with a basis for the development of levels of prescribing competency; for example, from recently qualified prescriber through to advanced prescriber
  • To stimulate discussions around prescribing competencies and multidisciplinary skill mix at an organisational level
  • To inform organisational recruitment processes to help frame questions and benchmark candidates’prescribing experience
  • To inform the development of organisational systems and processes that support safe effective prescribing; for example, local clinical governance frameworks.

The RPS is liaising with the professional bodies and organisations of the other prescribing professions to encourage uptake of the framework, which will be reviewed again in July 2020.


Royal Pharmaceutical Society (2016) A Competency Framework for all Prescribers. (accessed 1 August 2016)

Taken from Nurse Prescribing, published 12 August 2016.