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Prescribing errors

The prescription of a drug represents the most common healthcare intervention. Medication errors are common and are associated with considerable risk of patient harm.

Research conducted at The University of Manchester from 1996 to date has led to the reduction of prescribing errors, thereby improving patient safety in primary and secondary health care settings.

A team from the Manchester Pharmacy School conducted two groundbreaking studies:

  • PINCER looked at the impact of an intervention by pharmacist-led IT systems to reduce medication errors when writing out prescriptions in GP surgeries;
  • EQUIP was the largest ever study to investigate the prevalence and causes of prescribing errors in hospital settings.

The prescribing safety indicators used in PINCER have been incorporated into 'medicines optimisation' software for GPs' computer systems in the UK. This PINCER trial showed a 22% reduction in prescribing and monitoring problems.

These indicators developed by the Manchester team have also been used in primary care settings in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

EQUIP led to national recommendations for standardisation of drug prescription charts for junior doctors rotating between hospitals during their training - inconsistency in design had contributed to prescribing errors. This has been recommended for use in all NHS Trusts by the Medical Director of NHS England.

The study also had an impact on the medical training of students - the General Medical Council has recommended the introduction of formal prescribing skills training, practical experience and assessment for medical students throughout the UK.

Large teaching hospitals in the UK have employed extra hospital pharmacists as a result of the findings of EQUIP and this has also reduced the number of prescribing errors in hospital settings.

"Large teaching hospitals in the UK have employed extra hospital pharmacists as a result of the findings of EQUIP and this has also reduced the number of prescribing errors in hospital settings."

Darren Ashcroft / Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology