Huge amounts of medicines are prescribed and taken by patients every day.

Medicines are an important part of treatment and recovery for patients when they are ill or need them to manage a long term condition. But medicines can also harm patients if they are prescribed the wrong one, or it’s given in the wrong way or an incorrect dose. That makes medicines a safety issue.

Tomorrow is World Patient Safety Day and this year’s theme is Medication Safety, which supports the World Health Organization’s (WHO) long-running campaign, Medication Without Harm.

Patient partnership

We believe patient partnership is key to the safe prescribing, supply and taking of medicines. Before a patient is prescribed a medicine, the health professional who suggests it should discuss the patient’s options.

The doctor, nurse or pharmacist should explain the benefits and risks of taking the medicine and answer any questions the patient has. The final decision should be the patient’s.

This is the advice we provide in our information, Understanding your medicines. When patients and health professionals work in this way, they are practising shared decision making and working in partnership. We believe working in partnership improves patient safety across all aspects of healthcare.

Medication without harm

The right medicine can transform a patient’s life, but medications may cause serious harm if incorrectly stored, prescribed, dispensed, administered or if their use is not properly monitored.

The WHO says unsafe medication practices and medication errors are a leading cause of avoidable harm in health systems across the world, including in the UK. Medication errors can result in severe patient harm, disability and even death. WHO is using today to focus on the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for medication safety, considering the serious disruption in the provision of health services. 

Staff shortages

In our recent report, Shared decision making from the perspective of clinicians and healthcare professionals, we heard from more than 1,000 healthcare professionals, many of whom told us that heavy workloads, lack of time, poor IT systems, and too few staff, prevented them from working in partnership with their patients. These are the circumstances in which medication errors occur: poor admin systems, tired staff and too few staff.

Safety culture

This World Patient Safety Day we want to raise awareness of the harm medication errors cause and advocate for improvements in medication safety. We wholeheartedly support the WHO’s goal of empowering patients and families to be actively involved in the safe use of medication: this is patient partnership. We believe professionals partnering with patients and carers results in better outcomes for patients and for the health system. For us, embedding patient partnership across the healthcare system is part of improving a culture of patient safety in the NHS.

Being prescribed medication is one of the most common interactions between patient and healthcare professional: this World Patient Safety, let’s ensure all medicine prescribed today is done so following a discussion of its benefits and risks and with the patient’s full participation.

Lucy Watson, Chair of the Board of Trustees

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