Medication errors and clinical negligence claims

December 22, 2016

The use of computers in doctor surgeries and pharmacies have increased in the last few years, with many GPs now having systems whereby prescriptions are “sent” electronically through to a pharmacy chosen by the patient.  Patient records are easily accessible online and healthcare professionals are required to keep careful records relating to those patients.   You would think that with such ready access to information it would be easier to ensure that patients are being given the correct medication and yet mistakes continue to occur, not only with doctors prescribing unsuitable medication or the wrong dose, but also with pharmacists not giving patients the actual medication they have been prescribed.

According to a Report by the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for the Department of Health there are around 400 claims each year against dispensing pharmacies but it is thought that the amount of actual incidents which occur are much higher and simply not reported.   This could be because the mistake has been noticed before the patient has come to any harm, or that despite taking the medication they have not suffered any adverse reaction.   However, taking the wrong medication clearly does have the potential to cause a patient serious harm, even death.   In October 2014 The Telegraph reported a story where a locum pharmacist had given a patient tablets for diabetes instead of the ones prescribed for her Crohn’s Disease.  They were the same size and colour as her normal tablets so she was unaware they were not the correct tablets and took them for several weeks.  As a result of taking the tablets her blood sugar level was dangerously low and she fell into a coma, dying a month later.

When we are prescribed medication it comes with a leaflet telling you how to take the tablets, what the medication is used to treat and advises of the potential side-effects.   Most people, when they are told to take something they have not taken before, will read through that leaflet briefly and by taking the medication they accept the risk that they may experience a side-effect in some form or another.   Not everyone will read the leaflet though and simply trust the medical experts to have given them the correct drug.   Those who have taken the same medication for years are also unlikely to bother reading the leaflet again.   This means that patients will be unaware they have been given incorrect medication, particularly if the tablets look similar to the ones they are used to taking.   A lot of medicines have similar sounding names which can cause mistakes to be made and there are a number of different manufacturers making the same generic drug which looks different depending on the manufacturer.  With Pharmacies being touted by Drug Companies looking to sell/market their products it is quite common for Pharmacies to change their suppliers, resulting in the same product then being dispensed but under a different name, in a different box or even in a different shape or colour.    It is no wonder then that the patients themselves are unaware they are not taking the medication they have been prescribed.

Being prescribed or given the wrong tablets gives rise to a potential claim against the person responsible, whether it is the GP, the Pharmacist or another NHS employee.   However, there must have been some ill effect of taking those tablets.   For example, the condition that the tablets were prescribed for has worsened because it is left untreated, or you suffer from new symptoms or a new condition arises as a result of the side-effects of taking a drug you were not meant to take.   In those cases, where it is generally fairly simple to prove that negligence has occurred in the very fact that the wrong medication has been given, it still remains a difficult task to link the taking of those tablets to those side-effects or the new symptoms/condition that has arisen, particularly when there could be a number of other causes.

Here at Metcalfes we have an experienced team of Medical Negligence Lawyers who can offer you specialist advice.   If you believe that you or a family member has been provided with the wrong medication, as a result of which you or they have suffered injury then please contact us on 0117 239 8012.  Alternatively, you can email us by using our online contact form and we will be happy to discuss your potential claim with you.

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Website content note: This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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Medication errors and clinical negligence claims

Gillian Clark

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