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Daily Mail Article - Why is the NHS killing so many with drugs

Posted on May 20 2009
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By Daniel Martin
Last updated at 12:50 AM on 20th May 2009

 An extraordinary rise in the number of patients killed by drugs given out by the Health Service has led to calls for an investigation.

The figure has more than doubled since Labour came to power, rising from 520 in 1998 to 1,299 last year.

Official figures also show that the number of such deaths last year was up by more than a quarter on the figure of 1,030 recorded in 2007. 

Investigation: The number of patients killed by drugs given out by the NHS has doubled to 1,299

Investigation: The number of patients killed by drugs given out by the NHS has doubled to 1,299

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb, who obtained the statistics following a parliamentary question, said: 'The Government needs to urgently investigate this extraordinary rise. 



'The public needs to know why these adverse reactions are happening more frequently and why the trend appears to be increasing so much.

'Patient safety is being compromised. Ministers must ensure that better information on prescription drugs is available for patients and doctors.'

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Some experts blamed the increase on failures in the training of hospital doctors and Labour's decision to hand greater prescribing powers to nurses.

The figures show that in 2008, a total of 25,424 reports of adverse reactions to drugs - both fatal and non-fatal - were made to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the government organisation in charge of drug safety.

They were up by 17 per cent on 2007 and by 41 per cent in a decade.

Of these patients, 4,487 had to stay in hospital for several days following side effects from medication - around the same as in 2007 but up by more than 50 per cent on 1998. 

The figures mainly cover drugs handed out on prescription, but they also relate to over-the-counter and herbal medicines.

Peter Walsh, of pressure group Action Against Medical Accidents, said: 'There are far too many complications resulting in harm or death. These numbers must be reduced, and it must be in the gift of a modern NHS to get them down.

'The true figure will undoubtedly be much higher, because not all incidents are reported [by hospitals and GPs]. And in many cases doctors simply do not know what caused a sudden deterioration or a death - the drugs or another cause.

'Problems with medicines are one of the biggest patient safety issues faced by the NHS.'

Mr Walsh said better reporting of adverse reactions could be the reason behind some of the rise. But there was also the problem of new drugs, and complicated therapies that include combinations of drugs.

These 'cutting-edge' treatments often have unknown side effects.

Adverse reactions can also occur where doctors do not know what other drugs a patient is taking, or about allergic reactions they suffer from.

Errors in identifying patients - with drugs being given to the wrong patient - and in dosages, also cause numerous deaths, he said.

The Daily Mail revealed in January that the number of patients killed by hospital blunders has soared by 60 per cent in only two years.

Official records show that 3,645 died as a result of outbreaks of infections, botched operations and other mistakes in 2007/2008, up from 2,275 two years before.

Critics say that the quality of NHS care has suffered as doctors and nurses come under pressure to meet Government waiting time targets.

A spokesman for the MHRA said a number of factors are thought to have played a role in the rise in fatal adverse drug reactions including changes in pharmaceutical companies' reporting of the reactions and increased prescribing of drugs.

'It is not possible to pick out one single factor influencing this trend,' she added.




Last changed: May 20 2009 at 8:42 AM



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