A study published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety sought to provide national estimates of the number and clinical and economic burden of medication errors in the National Health Service (NHS) in England. Researchers used UK-based prevalence of medication errors (in prescribing, dispensing, administration and monitoring) in primary care, secondary care and care home settings, and associated healthcare resource use, to estimate annual number and burden of errors to the NHS. Burden (healthcare resource use and deaths) was estimated from harm associated with avoidable adverse drug events (ADEs).
National estimates indicate more than 237 million medication errors are made every year in England, the avoidable consequences of which cost the NHS upwards of £98 million and more than 1700 lives every year. The study found ubiquitous medicines use in health care leads unsurprisingly to high numbers of medication errors, although most are not clinically important. There is significant uncertainty around estimates due to the assumption that avoidable ADEs correspond to medication errors, data quality, and lack of data around longer-term impacts of errors. Data linkage between errors and patient outcomes is essential to progress understanding in this area.