Medication and Prescription Errors

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Medication and Prescription Errors

When we visit a health professional, we rightly believe they will do everything possible to care for us in a safe and careful manner.  Unfortunately, there have been a number of high-profile medical negligence scandals in recent years highlighting that sometimes the required standard of care is not given, and in some case, systematic negligence has been left to fester for decades.


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What are prescription / medication errors?

Medication errors are not uncommon and can include:

  • Prescribing the wrong drug
  • Prescribing the wrong dose – potentially leading to an overdose
  • Prescribing a drug to a child which is only intended for adults
  • Failure to review medication
  • Failure to stop medication
  • Failure to change medication
  • Not explaining the side-effects of a drug you have been prescribed
  • Being given a drug to which you have an allergy
  • Being given a drug which had a dangerous interaction with another drug you are taking
  • Being given a drug meant for someone else – perhaps due to a mistake in the pharmacy
  • The medication has an incorrect label / information
  • Incorrect administration of medication, e.g. intramuscular drugs given intravenously

While it may be the case that the correct medication has been prescribed initially, doctors have a duty to monitor patients to ensure the drug and dosage remain appropriate, hence failure to review your medication, failure to stop the medication when necessary, and failure to change the medication to a another variant (e.g. if an adverse reaction is noted, or another drug is needed which cannot be combined with existing medication) is an essential part of the patient care process. 

Reducing medication mix-ups has been a high priority for many years within the NHS, and while numbers have improved, every year, it is believed the prescribing error rate is in the region of 7% in NHS hospitals, according to NHS England.  In real terms, this means around 230 million medication errors take place in the NHS each year.  Of these, 61.4 million errors are estimated to cause moderate harm, and 4.8 million cause severe harm.  And on average, 712 deaths each year are directly due to adverse drug reactions.

What is an adverse drug reaction?

An adverse drug reaction (ADR) is described as “an unwanted or harmful reaction which occurs after administration of a drug or drugs and is suspected or known to be due to the drug(s)”.  ADR’s can be the result of a prescription error and are considered serious reactions if they:

  • result in death
  • are life-threatening;
  • are disabling;
  • are incapacitating;
  • result in congenital abnormalities; or,
  • result in or prolong hospitalisation.

There are many safety processes in place in hospitals to ensure ADR’s do not occur, but if they do, they are supposed to be reported centrally to reduce the risk of the same occurrence.

High-profile medical negligence scandals

Gosport War Memorial Hospital Scandal - In June 2018, The Report of the Gosport Independent Panel was published, outlining the findings of an inquiry into the inappropriate provision of opioid medication to patients at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital in Hampshire.  The report outlined how Dr Jane Barton oversaw the routine practice of prescribing opioid medication to patients without medical justification, leading to the early death of at least 450 patients.  According to the details of the report, there was a regime of routinely prescribing and administering ‘dangerous’ doses of hazardous combinations of medication dating back to the 1980’s.

Sodium Valproate / Anti-Consultant Medication in PregnancySodium Valproate is a common medication used to control epilepsy, but is known to cause serious birth defects if taken by pregnant women.  Despite being used for over 45 years, and the risks to pregnant women and their unborn child being known since 1974, prescribing of this medication continued to this at-risk group without clear warnings being given of the risks.  After years of campaigning and pressure, the government moved to ban Sodium Valproate from being used during pregnancy in April 2018.  The prescription of Sodium Valproate to pregnant women for decades internationally has left in its wake a legacy of thousands of serious birth defects which may have been avoided had authorities acted earlier.

Both the Gosport Hospital and the sodium valproate scandals have highlighted how serious prescribing errors have been happening for decades, in some cases internationally, and have taken a great deal of campaigning to bring to light, and for action to be taken. 

Can I claim compensation if I have suffered severe consequences from a medication error?

If you have suffered severe health impacts due to the neglectful act of a healthcare professional at any stage during the prescription, dispensing, or administration of your medication, then you may be eligible to claim special and general damages for your losses.

Special damages are intended to cover the financial costs that have resulted from the medical negligence such as medical, accommodation, travel, rehabilitation costs, plus any loss of earnings you have already incurred due to being unable to work.  General damages cover the pain, suffering and emotional stress you have been forced to endure as a result of what has happened to you.

How long will I have to bring a claim for prescribing or medication errors?

Under the Limitations Act 1980, you have three years to bring your claim for compensation from the date of the incident.  It is important to note that within this limited time, your completed application for compensation must be lodged with the court, therefore you must allow sufficient time for the evidence to be sought and the full case prepared, which will take some while, depending on the complexity of your situation.

If you only became aware of the damage caused by the prescribing or medication error at a later date (i.e. not at the time the medication was administered), then the three-year rule may only apply from this date.  And for children, the three-year limit only applies from the date of their 18th birthday.

Is it possible to seek compensation from the NHS for medical negligence?

Yes, NHS Resolution is the litigation arm of the NHS, and exists to handle medical negligence claims. 

Some individuals may be concerned about the ethics of bringing a claim against the NHS, but If you have suffered significant impacts from a mistake made during your treatment, compensation can help put your life back on track.  And importantly by making a claim, you ensure that the mistake that was made is fully investigated within the NHS’s own processes and therefore reduces the chance of reoccurrence.

What is the ‘duty of care’ owed by a medical professional?

When bringing a claim for medical negligence due to a prescribing error, our primary objective is to show the medical professional owed you a duty of care, this was breached, and this breach caused you harm.  All medical professionals have a duty to provide you with a reasonable standard of care, and to act in the manner of another competent doctor at the same level.  The General Medical Council state in relation to prescribing that medical personnel must:

  • prescribe drugs or treatment, including repeat prescriptions, only when they have adequate knowledge of the patient’s health, and are satisfied that the drugs or treatment serve the patient’s needs, and;
  • provide effective treatments based on the best available evidence, and;
  • check that the care or treatment they provide for each patient is compatible with any other treatments the patient is receiving, including (where possible) self-prescribed over-the-counter medications.

What evidence will be needed to bring a claim for prescribing or medication errors?

At IBB Claims, our specialist team of medical negligence solicitors are experts in the process of gathering evidence to prove a case.  To make your case as robust as possible, we may seek the advice of a medical expert, and gather copies of your medical records, and any correspondence.  By providing as much information as possible at the outset of your case, including names of medical personnel, dates of appointments, and copies of prescriptions where possible, this will greatly speed up the process of gathering evidence, and will assist your case.  Our primary objective is to demonstrate your doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or any other medical professional acted negligently, and that you suffered an adverse reaction because of this negligent act.

Why choose IBB Claims to handle your medication medical negligence claim?

By instructing IBB Claims to manage your case, you can relax in the knowledge that we have undertaken and been successful in seeking compensation for patients who have been in circumstances similar to yours.  Prescribing and medical errors can cause serious long-term and irreversible health effects, and in some cases death. 

At IBB Claims, we understand the financial and emotional impact such negligent acts can have on patients and their family.  As such we make it a priority to ensure you are given all of the support you need, with the ultimate goal of putting you back, as close as possible, to the situation you were in before the incident occurred.  IBB Claims have built a strong reputation for handling complex claims due to our considerable experience.  We will treat you and your family with the utmost care and sensitivity, explaining each stage of the process as we progress and providing the best guidance when needed.

If you would like further information on making a compensation claim for medication or prescription errors, please call our office on 0333 123 9099.

What is medical / clinical negligence?

Medical negligence is deemed to have occurred when a medical professional breaches their legal duty of care to a patient, causing them harm.  This may happen at the level of the GP, during a hospital admission, when attending an outpatient clinic appointment, or during any other interaction with a health professional. 

If you have been the victim of clinical negligence, you may be eligible to seek financial compensation for your injuries and losses if it can be proven that an error was made, and this directly led to your injury.  The question asked when testing for negligence is - would a health care professional of the same level have acted in the same way?  Medical negligence includes prescription and medication-related errors.

If you would like further information on making a compensation claim for medical negligence, please call our office on 0333 123 9099.

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