No payout fear for Devizes patient over ventilator switch-off
Tetraplegic Jamie Merrett had a bedside camera set up at his home in Wiltshire in January 2009
A man left severely brain damaged after a nurse mistakenly switched off his ventilator fears he may never receive compensation, his solicitor has said.
Tetraplegic Jamie Merrett's nurse Violeta Aylward was caught on camera switching off the machine in 2009.
She worked for recruitment agency Ambition 24hours, but it did not have medical negligence insurance as it was not required to.
It explained that Ms Aylward should instead be covered by her professional body, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
But the RCN said it was no longer prepared to indemnify Ms Aylward.
In a statement, the organisation said: "The RCN indemnity scheme applies to members working in both the public and independent sectors.
"Our indemnity scheme, like insurance policies, is subject to certain conditions and exclusions.
"The RCN declined to indemnify the nurse in this case because of her complete failure to co-operate with us.
"Despite making every effort to engage with the nurse, we were left without information or legal instructions.
Solicitor Seamus Edney who is acting for Mr Merrett, said his client may never get compensation
"At this stage, it would be inappropriate to comment further on legal proceedings that are ongoing.
"However, it is important to note that there are other defendant parties to these proceedings."
It added: "For the avoidance of doubt, the payment of any compensation and costs under the RCN indemnity scheme is entirely in the discretion of the RCN Council, subject also to you satisfying the conditions set out here.
"The RCN scheme is not a policy of insurance."
Solicitor Seamus Edney, of SJ Edney in Swindon, who is acting for Mr Merrett, said Ms Aylward's indemnity had been "withdrawn at a very late stage in the case".
"She's now liable in person for any damages which are awarded to Jamie," he said.
"It just beggars belief that a nurse could find herself in this situation, where the RCN can withdraw indemnity.
"There must be many other nurses out there who are working for a supply or recruitment agency and they find that they may not have cover from their professional body."
Mr Merrett, from Devizes, had been cared for at home since 2002 and set up the camera at his bedside in 2009 after becoming concerned about the quality of his care.
He had been left paralysed from the neck downwards in a road accident, but was able to use a wheelchair and talked using voice-activated technology.
His ventilator was switched off for 21 minutes and eventually restarted by paramedics but Mr Merrett had already suffered serious brain damage and now needs extra care.
Mr Merrett's solicitor has now lodged a claim against Invent Health, a private agency which sub-contracted the work to Ambition 24hours.
Invent Health said it could not comment on the case because of the claim.
Mr Edney said: "There is a risk of course that we may not succeed and because there is no insurance Jamie may not get his damages."
Ms Aylward, who has not responded to a request from the BBC for a comment, is due to appear before the Nursing and Midwifery Council next week to face a range of charges that include not being familiar with how to operate a ventilator.
A patient lost a testicle during an operation because the surgeon cut it off by mistake, a General Medical Council (GMC) hearing has been told.
Dr Sulieman Al Hourani was only supposed to cut out a cyst, but removed the whole right testicle instead.
Dr Al Hourani was a locum surgeon at Fairfield General Hospital in Bury, Greater Manchester, at the time of the surgery in September 2007.
He is accused of misconduct and also of stealing medication.
It is alleged the doctor, who is now practising in Jordan and was not present at the hearing, also injected himself with a drug meant for a patient.
Sarah Prichard, counsel for the GMC, said the mistake was made as a nurse helping the surgeon turned her back to get a stitch. When she turned around the testicle had been removed.
Ms Prichard said: "Literally as the nurse turned away to get a transfixion stitch, the incident occurred and the testicle was removed.
"Such was the level of concern they immediately realised it could be a serious medical incident and took steps to complete the relevant documentation."
A month later it is alleged that the doctor, who qualified after studying at Jordan University of Science and Technology, stole two boxes of dihydrocodeine from a treatment room on a ward at the same hospital.
An investigation was launched and the doctor was dismissed by his employer, Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which ran the hospital.
The GMC was told of another incident in August 2006, when Dr Al Hourani had consulted a colleague and was advised to inject a patient with 10 milligrams (mg) of midazolam, a powerful sedative drug.
He then gave the patient 8mg and injected himself with the other 2mg, the hearing was told.
The case against Dr Al Hourani is being heard in his absence as he was notified of the hearing but chose not to "engage" with the GMC or appoint lawyers to represent him.
The case, scheduled to last three weeks, was adjourned until Tuesday.
18 March 2012 Last updated at 05:00
Doctors to challenge coalition MPs
A group of doctors has threatened to put up candidates to oppose coalition MPs at the next election in protest at proposed changes to the NHS in England.
In a letter to the Independent on Sunday, signed by 240 doctors, the group claims the Health and Social Care Bill "fundamentally undermines the founding principles" of the NHS.
GPs would play a key role in managing the NHS budget under the plans.
Ministers insist the changes will make the NHS more efficient.
In the letter, the doctors wrote: "It is our view that coalition MPs and peers have placed the political survival of the coalition government above professional opinion, patient safety and the will of the citizens of this country.
"We are shocked by the failure of the democratic process and the facilitating role played by the Liberal Democrats in the passage of this Bill.
"We have therefore decided to form a coalition of healthcare professionals to take on coalition MPs at the next general election, on the non-party, independent ticket of defending the NHS."
Dr Clive Peedell, a cancer specialist and co-chair of the NHS Consultants' Association, organised the letter.
He told the newspaper he had originally hoped to get just 50 names.
Dr Peedell said the group would field "as many candidates as possible" at the general election, with other supporters acting in administrative and fundraising roles.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, the minister who is the driving force behind the changes, are expected to be among the politicians targeted by the move at the next general election, due in 2015.
The government has already made several amendments to the bill aimed at appeasing its critics, including greater patient involvement and strengthening the role of the watchdog Monitor in requiring providers to promote integrated healthcare.
The controversial Health and Social Care Bill faces a fresh obstacle in its parliamentary passage on Monday, when peers are likely to vote on whether to delay it pending possible publication of a confidential risk assessment drawn up by civil servants.
Last week, a Department of Health appeal against an order by the Information Commissioner to publish the "transition risk register" was thrown out by a tribunal.
Ministers have said they will not decide whether or not to launch a further appeal until they have seen the full judgment from the Information Rights Tribunal.
However Lord Owen, a former doctor and SDP leader, has put down a motion which would delay the third reading until after the government has responded to the full judgment, or until "the last practical opportunity" for agreeing the Bill before the end of the parliamentary session in early May.
This post was modified from its original form on 18 Mar, 13:00
Ray, America needs to keep a watchful eye on what is going on in the UK as it relates to NHS. The cost of good medical care is expensive....there's no cheap or inexpensive way to get around it and that means taxes must go up rapidly to keep up with the costs. Here in the United States, the liberals somehow "think" that national healthcare is "free." Can you imagine that? Nothing is free. Nothing except the air we breathe.
Regulating the insurance companies here in the US should be seriously considered. The government has NO business running healthcare in our country. Look at the social programs we already have and we have more than $60 billion a year in fraud and abuse. That right there tells me that the problems are so huge that there isn't a way to handle them and, of course, the taxpayers are paying for this massive waste of our dollars.
Thanks for posting this. I know you'll keep us up to date.
26 March 2012 Last updated at 10:24
Elderly cancer treatment 'shame'
The UK has some of the poorest cancer mortality rates in Europe in the over 70s. Recent years have seen efforts to reduce the number of cases of cancer and significant steps to diagnose cancers earlier. But in Scrubbing Up, Hazel Brodie, older people's expert at Macmillan Cancer Support, warns these measures don't go far enough and that more must be done to ensure older people get access to treatment.
Cancer survival rates are desperately poor among people over 70 who account for half of people newly diagnosed with cancer in the UK. While mortality rates are improving significantly for the under 75s, around 14,000 cancer patients over 75 are dying prematurely each year in the UK. But there are barriers to treatment.
Research we have done shows older people are less likely to receive surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy than their younger counterparts.
This difference in treatment rates cannot be entirely accounted for by medically justifiable reasons such as the presence of untreatable co-morbidities.
We are deeply concerned that treatment decisions are too often being made on the basis of age, regardless of how fit patients may be, leading to under-treatment.
The older population is a varied one. One 85-year-old may tolerate chemotherapy well, while another may experience complications such as severe toxicity. Similarly, one 78-year-old may be bed-bound, while another may participate in half marathons. As such, older people must be treated as individuals.
Clinicians require more information on frailty in order to make appropriate treatment recommendations which is why we are calling for more effective assessments to be used to indicate who will tolerate what treatment.
Inadequate practical support to help older people at home, with transport, or with care for dependent spouses and other family presents another barrier to treatment. We have heard of older people having to turn down treatment because of this.
Time and time again I hear older people recounting the difficulties they have in getting to and from hospital for their treatment or with meal preparation and shopping.
One 81-year-old said "I didn't have chemotherapy, because they thought if I couldn't get to hospital to have it, it wasn't much good.
"They didn't say that they would provide transport for me".
This is simply unacceptable. Patients should be provided with information about local services which can offer practical and social support during cancer treatment. An older person should never refuse treatment because they're having difficulties with transport or caring for a relative.
Age discriminatory practices are also a barrier to older people getting the treatment. Britain is one of the worst in Europe for negative attitudes to the elderly. A recent survey undertaken by the British Geriatric Society showed that one third of geriatricians believed that the NHS was 'institutionally ageist.
We want "age equality" within cancer services. Older people are all individuals with differing levels of frailty, mental attitude, and support.
Each will tolerate cancer treatment differently. It is vital that steps are taken to ensure that the right people get the right treatment at the correct level of intensity, together with the practical support to enable them to take up and complete the treatment.
Writing people off as too old for treatment is utterly shameful.
This post was modified from its original form on 26 Mar, 11:51
26 March 2012 Last updated at 13:16
Dementia: PM promises push to tackle 'national crisis'
Extra funding for research into dementia forms a central plank of the government's attempts to tackle the "national crisis" in care. David Cameron said he wanted to see the UK become a world leader in the field.
In a move widely welcomed by campaigners, the prime minister promised the research budget would be doubled to £66m by 2015. He also said he wanted to see diagnosis and awareness of the condition improved. Dementia is thought to affect about 800,000 people, with the cost to society estimated at £23bn. In the next decade, the number with the disease is expected to top one million.
Mr Cameron said: "One of the greatest challenges of our time is what I'd call the quiet crisis, one that steals lives and tears at the hearts of families, but that - relative to its impact - is hardly acknowledged.
"Dementia is simply a terrible disease. And it is a scandal that we as a country haven't kept pace with it. "The level of diagnosis, understanding and awareness of dementia is shockingly low. It is as though we've been in collective denial." He added the issue should be treated as a "national crisis". To tackle the problem, he set out a series of measures - some of which had already been announced - to be rolled out in the coming years.
These included the rise in research funding and encouraging the creation of 20 "dementia-friendly communities" where individuals, businesses and the state work together to support people with dementia.
The Department of Health will also run a public awareness campaign in the autumn, while hospitals will be given financial incentives to carry out checks on patients to see if they have the condition - just four in 10 patients have a formal diagnosis.
He said the steps would allow Britain to become a "world leader in dementia research and care". Alzheimer's Research UK said it could be a turning point in the battle to defeat dementia. And Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, said called it an "unprecedented step" towards improving care.
David Rogers, chairman of the Local Government Association's community wellbeing board, said: "There needs to be urgent action to ensure the way we offer support to older people is fairer, simpler and fit for purpose in order to truly meet the needs of the most vulnerable members of our society."
Health correspondent, BBC News
Doubling the money spent on dementia research is being welcomed by many, but it will still mean the condition is the poor relation compared with other diseases. Both cancer and heart disease already get more than the £66m sum being promised by ministers. And this is out of all proportion to the burden of caring for dementia patients. The £23bn figure being quoted today is nearly double the figure spent on cancer and three times the sum for heart disease.
But perhaps more telling is the proportion of that cost being borne by family and friends. The majority of people with the condition live in the community, relying on family and friends to look after them. That contribution is estimated to account for more than half the costs of care.
Coupled to the ageing population, which will see the number of people with the condition double over the next 40 years, dementia is perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing the health and social care systems in the 21st Century.
This post was modified from its original form on 26 Mar, 12:02
Osborne 'raiding' NHS budget to fund income tax cuts
Chancellor George Osborne has been accused of "raiding" the NHS budget to help fund the cut in the top rate of income tax.
Figures reveal £500m of £900m unallocated funding from 2011-2012 will be returned to the Treasury.
The Department of Health said the underspend was due to unexpected efficiencies in capital projects.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the government was giving tax cuts to millionaires and P45s to nurses.
A reduction in planned spending by the health service was disclosed in Treasury figures following Wednesday's budget.
It follows a £900m underspend in 2011/12, of which £400m has been rolled over into the 2012/13 budget.
The Department of Health said the underspend was down to greater than expected efficiencies in capital projects, including an IT scheme, but the coalition's commitment to increase the NHS budget in real terms was still being met.
But Andy Burnham said the NHS, facing thousands of nursing job losses, was "taking a hit" to help fund the cut in the top rate of income tax for people earning more than £150,000 a year.
"This week we saw the government's true colours: they are handing out tax cuts to millionaires and P45s to nurses," he said.
"The NHS is already suffering as the government holds back billions to pay for their unnecessary top-down reorganisation.
"Now we learn the government is making a further £500m raid on the health budget as thousands of nursing jobs are being axed.
"The government promised any savings would be reinvested in the NHS. Now we know the truth - the NHS front line is taking a hit to pay for tax cuts for millionaires."
Nuffield Trust chief economist Anita Charlesworth told the Health Service Journal that savings in the NHS were being used to reduce the deficit.
"The argument for front-loading efficiency plans was to generate money to reinvest in transforming services so that they would be sustainable in later years as the impact of constrained funding started to bite," she said.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We are meeting our pledge to increase the NHS budget in real terms - we are investing an extra £12.5bn the NHS over the course of this Parliament.
"The majority of this year's underspend is from the capital budget - mainly from savings on IT systems.
"We have already transferred the maximum amount of capital budget permitted into next year and used some to fund part of £330m for vital projects across the NHS to benefit patients. £500m represents less than 0.5% of the total Department of Health budget"
It seems that £500m of the savings are not going to be reinvested in new models of service delivery but will instead be channelled towards central government deficit reduction.”
Anita CharlesworthNuffield Trust chief economist
26 March 2012 Last update
Health: Prof Marcus Longley asks if the NHS is ready for retirement
PROFESSOR MARCUS LONGLEY, director of the Welsh Institute for Health and Social Care at the University of Glamorgan, asks if the model of a national health service introduced in at a time of post-war rationing is still valid in the 21st Century.
The NHS is now older than most of its patients.
It was created in post-war Britain, when we still had rationing, corner shops and nylon stockings. Is it really the best way of providing healthcare in the second decade of the next century, when we are richer than ever before, do our shopping 24/7 online, and have an infinity of hosiery choice?
Are the three cornerstones of comprehensive cover, for all citizens, free at the point of use still applicable, and still attainable?
In other words, should the NHS be looking to retire, like most 64-year-olds? The case for the prosecution might have three propositions.
First, we citizens have changed, and modern consumers of healthcare don't want monopoly, one-size-fits-all provision.
Second, healthcare itself has moved on, and the range of diseases, treatment options and specialisation demands a new model.
And third, we simply can't afford it any more, not just in the short term (Wales has a looming £0.25bn funding gap), but in the longer term.
Just to cater for more older people, the NHS will need to increase its annual share of national wealth from 8% to 10.2% by the time the NHS reaches the age of 90, but who's voting for higher taxes?
And anyway, if the NHS is good, why have almost no other countries in the world copied it?
The case for the defence might run as follows. First, human beings haven't changed fundamentally in 64 years, and we still think that fairness, compassion and solidarity should shape our healthcare.
The NHS is perfectly designed to deliver these, while also getting better at working in partnership with people. Just look at the opinion polls: the NHS is the most popular institution we have.
Second, while almost every other aspect of healthcare has indeed changed, certain fundamentals haven't.
The NHS is still perfectly designed to deliver these: services dedicated to preventing illness and maintaining good health, distributed according to need (primary care); allied with specialist provision in centres of excellence, equally accessible according to need (secondary care); held together by common bonds of professionalism and shared funding… still sounds pretty good!
And finally, healthcare across the developed world has an insatiable appetite, so every country needs to tackle the growing financial burdens of longevity and self-abuse.
This isn't just a problem for the NHS, but the NHS is best designed to cope with it, being based on providing rational, evidence-based interventions, and ensuring that all sections of society have a stake in its future success.
Why fix something that isn't broken?
If you were a member of the jury, trying the case of the NHS, would you vote guilty as charged, or not guilty? Marcus Longley is professor of applied health policy and director of the Welsh Institute for Health and Social Care at the University of Glamorgan.
This post was modified from its original form on 26 Mar, 22:57
Governments have absolutely no business running a country's healthcare. We have over $60 billion a year in fraud and abuse in the US because the government isn't capable of running a business and healthcare is a business. I'm not surprised that the UK will look to privitizing healthcare because if they don't they'll go bankrupt and taxes will continue to rise to pay for it.
My hope is that ObamaCare will be deemed unconstitutional and be thrown in the trash can where it belongs.
A large majority of Americans can pay for their own healthcare coverage. We read about the homeless, foreclosures, etc. but it is still a small percentage of Americans. Many Americans have excellent credit and money in the bank. They aren't spending their money and this is one reason why we're having a slow recovery from the deep recession. Obama's administration has tampered many times with the natural recovery of the real estate market so much so that they've impeded the natural recovery and in so doing have crippled it.
We have the dumbest administration in the history of our country IMO OR they are smart and want to bankrupt and cripple the US. Either way they need to leave our White House for good. We know who the enemy is now.
3 April 2012 Last updated at 00:44 US obesity 'higher than thought'
How should obesity be calculated?
The obesity problem in the US may be much worse than previously thought, according to researchers.
They said using the Body Mass Index or BMI to determine obesity was underestimating the issue.
Their study, published in the journal PLoS One, said up to 39% of people who were not currently classified as obese actually were.
The authors said "we may be much further behind than we thought" in tackling obesity.
BMI is a simple calculation which combines a person's height and weightto give a score which can be used to diagnose obesity. Somebody with a BMI of 30 or more is classed as obese. The US Centers for Disease Control says at least one in three Americans are obese.
Other ways of diagnosing obesity include looking at how much of the body is made up of fat. A fat percentage of 25% or more for men or 30% or more for women is the threshold for obesity.
One of the researchers Dr Eric Braverman said: "The Body Mass Index is an insensitive measure of obesity, prone to under-diagnosis, while direct fat measurements are superior because they show distribution of body fat."
The team at the New York University School of Medicine and the Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, looked at records from 1,393 people who had both their BMI and body fat scores measured.
Their data showed that most of the time the two measures came to the same conclusion. However, they said 539 people in the study - or 39% - were not labelled obese according to BMI, but their fat percentage suggested they were.
They said the disparity was greatest in women and became worse when looking at older groups of women.
"Greater loss of muscle mass in women with age exacerbates the misclassification of BMI," they said.
They propose changing the thresholds for obesity: "A more appropriate cut-point for obesity with BMI is 24 for females and 28 for males."
A BMI of 24 is currently classed as a "normal" weight.
"By our cut-offs, 64.1% or about 99.8 million American women are obese," they said.
It is not the first time BMI has been questioned. A study by the University of Leicester said BMIs needed to be adjusted according to ethnicity.
Last year in the BBC's Scrubbing Up column, nutrition expert Dr Margaret Ashwell advocated using waist-to-height ratio to determine obesity.
She said: "It is a real worry that using BMI alone for screening could miss people who are at risk from central obesity and might also be alarming those whose risk is not as great as it appears from their BMI."
OFT orders investigation of private healthcare market
Cancer sufferer misses treatment for living in Wales
Medical groups are warning that cancer patients in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are not getting the same access to new drugs as patients in England.
Last year, the government in Westminster set up a Cancer Drugs Fund with £200m in order to fast track new treatments for English patients.
Doctors, patients and charities are now urging the rest of the UK to follow England's lead.
The BBC's Graham Satchell spoke to cancer sufferer Katie Rees, who was unable to get access to a specific treatment because she lives in Wales.
1 May 2012 Last updated at 01:29
Third of asthmatics risk a fatal attack, study suggests
A third of people with asthma are at a high risk of having a potentially fatal asthma attack, research suggests.
The findings come from an online test launched a few months ago by Asthma UK to help those with asthma gauge how serious their condition is.
Nearly 25,000 people took the Triple A (Avoid Asthma Attacks) test, which asks simple questions about factors known to be linked to worsening disease.
Before taking the test, less than half recognised that they might be at risk.
The charity believes most asthma-related emergencies are avoidable.
It estimates that up to 75% of emergency hospital admissions would be preventable with better disease management.
But the latest findings suggest that people with asthma are considerably underestimating their risk of having an attack.
Traffic light coding
Over half of respondents (55%) did not think they were at increased risk. Yet the Triple A test results suggested 93% were at increased or highly increased risk.
Asthma kills three people every day, and every seven minutes someone in the UK is admitted to hospital with a potentially fatal asthma attack, according to Asthma UK.
Those taking the test will fall into one of three categories, colour-coded like traffic lights.
The red category means the person runs a highly increased risk of a serious attack, while green would mean no increased risk.
In between, there is an amber category which is accompanied by advice that the person being tested is at an increased risk of an attack - and advises him or her to have a review with a GP or asthma nurse.
Each category is linked to advice on how to control the symptoms and what to do if someone does have an attack.
And the test stresses that everyone's asthma is different and symptoms can come and go, which means there is no way to entirely rule out any risk of an attack.
People who have attended A&E or been admitted overnight to hospital for their asthma in the past six months tend to be at increased risk of a serious attack.
Similarly, those who rely on using their reliever (blue) inhaler five times a day or more or have needed a course of steroid tablets for their asthma in the past six months are also at increased risk.
Neil Churchill of Asthma UK said: "It's extremely worrying that many people with asthma do not realise their own risk of ending up in hospital.
"As up to 75% of emergency hospital admissions are preventable with better management and support it's vitally important people understand their asthma and crucial that they are supported by healthcare professionals who can help them to reduce their risk."
It is my opinion that government controlled healthcare doesn't work. When people see something as being "free" it's human nature to abuse it. Although the taxpayers pay for this "free healthcare" many do not pay taxes at all.
I don't know what the answer is for the UK but you can see what is happening here in the US with Obamacare and how an overwhelming majority of Americans are against it. We know the cost will spiral out of control because we've seen it happen in other countries.
Keep us posted, Ray.
Diane, I would agree but there is one area that, as I consider it, I think we are missing something. Sales taxes go to the city, county, state and even the Federal Government in some cases. These are taxes and everyone pays them. I am not speaking of income taxes although they pay the lion's share of the budgetary income; I am talking of sales taxes. You pay them for gasoline, groceries, clothing, and any other retail item that you purchase. Everyone pays these taxes and they are collected at each level to provide government services.
At the state level they do go into Medicaid as well as all other areas of the state budget.
Therefore, to say that some people pay no taxes is not completely true nor to say that they do not contribute to some of the entitlement expenses is not true. Now to say they don't pay income taxes would be correct; but they are at least making some contribution. The amount is regulated by the city, county and State governments, but they are paying sales taxes at each of these levels.
There are so many contributing factors to why government-controlled healthcare does not work; everything from not having sufficient understanding of nor education into the medical care industry to regulate it to fraud and misuse as well as top-heavy administration of the system.
As you have pointed out and Diane, you have expressed, health care will never be "free" to anyone, not even in a socialist country. Someone, somewhere is paying for it. In Countries like the UK and Canada, you pay through taxation, but you are paying. And, as I have suggested above, it is not that people do not pay into it as much as there is such a drastic difference in how much people are required to pay into it; if you are unemployed and of employable age, you are not paying in the amount you would pay if employed; if you are under a certain income level, you are paying into Medicare and Medicaid, but not at the level of someone with a higher income.
I guess you can say, Obama, we are already sharing the wealth when you think about this; it is not just the 1%, but it is all but those making less than a certain amount (not sure but though it was $13,500 or some such figure) that are not paying in but are receiving the benefit of "sharing the wealth".
Ray, IMO the best thing the UK could do is privatize their healthcare and get rid of socialized medicine; just take time to do this right.
2 May 2012 Last updated at 03:55
GPs 'making too many errors prescribing drugs'
Doctor Brian Hope said it is ''a very complicated system''
GPs are making too many mistakes when prescribing drugs to patients, the official regulator says.
A General Medical Council review said errors were being made for one in six people on prescription drugs.
Its study - based on 1,200 patients - found the elderly and the young were the worst affected.
But the report said many mistakes were only minor and some would have been corrected by the pharmacist before the patients were actually given the drugs.
Nonetheless, researchers said it was clear there was room for improvement and called for better training for GPs and more checks on their prescribing practices.
They also suggested the length of the GP consultation should be increased from 10 minutes to 15 to ease the time pressure on doctors.
Lead researcher Professor Tony Avery added: "It's important we do everything we can to avoid all errors."
Lack of monitoring
The most common type of error identified was incomplete information on the prescription, followed by problems with dose and timing of doses.
In total, 18% of patients experienced a mistake with at least one prescription over the course of the year.
But for the over-75s the figure increased to 38%, reflecting the fact they were often on a number of different medications at the same time.
Children under the age of 14 were also more likely to experience an error - something that was put down to the difficulty of getting doses right.
But the overwhelming majority of cases were not classed as serious, with only 4% of errors judged as severe.
These included cases where patients were given drugs which they were allergic to, and a lack of monitoring of potentially risky drugs such as warfarin, which thins the blood.
Katherine Murphy, of the Patients Association said: "It is deeply worrying that such dangerous mistakes are being made.
"Patient safety is paramount yet still these avoidable errors are slipping through the net."
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the government was working with GPs to improve practices.
But he said patients should be reassured that even when GPs made mistakes, there were systems in place to make sure patients were not affected.
"The vast majority of prescriptions are checked by community pharmacists, who spot and put right any errors when they are dispensed."
Are you affected by the issues raised in this story? Please tell us your experiences using the form below.
I have never been given the wrong prescription either by my physicians or the pharmacy. However, my mother was given the wrong dose of a med that nearly killed her so I know it happens.
Diane, like you it has never happened to me personally however, I have been administed an anesthetic where no one knew I would have a reaction, but it was right there with doctors around me who could counteract the reaction. A good percent of the time that is the case or the reaction is not critical, just uncomfortable.
It is safe to say that we wish there was never any death attributed to the wrong medication, etc, but it is as apt to be because there is no indication that the patient would have a problem with the medication. Doctors and pharmacies are very good about telling the patient about adverse reactions, etc., so we know what to watch for, as well.
Ray, in this Country the pharmacies are getting very good and have for a number of years, about keeping track of the medications that a person receives (especially if you go to the same pharmacy or one that has locations all over the U.S.) and they watch to see that there won't be adverse reactions between medications a person is actively taking. They keep a very good record in most places. Doctors do the same and review this with the patient; refills are closely monitored, i.e., normally my doctor will prescribe something the first time with no refills. Then after taking the prescripton for a month I have to go in to be checked to make sure there were no problems and if none, they will then give me a prescription with 3 refills. If there are still no problems and I need the medication long term, then my doctor now gives me a prescription with 6 refills as I see her every 6 months. If she were to prescribe something that would react negatively with something she already has me taking, the pharmacy will call her and verify that she would still want me to have it, explain the negative effects and they would determine to give me something that will be compatible.
We have a pretty good monitoring system now. The real problems now are more centered around how a person will react to a new prescription they have never had before, but that is not that common as a problem.
Like you said, Diane, there are those occasional mistakes and they do happen, yes. Sometimes they are very critical and others they are easily corrected.
But I would say that more people die from traffic accidents, etc. or neglecting their health than from the wrong prescription by far; it would not even be close to the same incidence.
Linda and Diane, the problems I think what is happening is when there is a Locum Doctor prescribing medication due to the Locum Doctor would not beaware of the person medical history, by the way a Locum Doctor is a who stands in for a person normal Doctor
I know I have had a number of problems with Locum Doctor's in the past when prescribing medication been an Asthmatic due to the colours in the medication and E'Numbers, the pain killer Ibuprofen or Aspirin would trigger an attack so does E102, 104, 110 also triggers an attack, so it not just the foods I have to careful of it the medication also, lucky I do have a pharmacy who does himself suffer from Asthma so he know's the medication before giving it out.
it is just the medication, a few months ago a person went into hospital to have a Kidney removed, the problem was the Doctors removed the wrong Kidney and this is not the first time this has happened.
This post was modified from its original form on 03 May, 12:27
Two blind British men have electronic retinas fitted
Two British men who have been totally blind for many years have had part of their vision restored after surgery to fit pioneering eye implants.
They are able to perceive light and even some shapes from the devices which were fitted behind the retina.
The men are part of a clinical trial carried out at the Oxford Eye Hospital and King's College Hospital in London.
Professor Robert MacLaren and Mr Tim Jackson are leading the trial.
The two patients, Chris James and Robin Millar, lost their vision due to a condition known as retinitis pigmentosa, where the photoreceptor cells at the back of the eye gradually cease to function.
The wafer-thin, 3mm square microelectronic chip has 1,500 light-sensitive pixels which take over the function of the photoreceptor rods and cones.
The surgery involves placing it behind the retina from where a fine cable runs to a control unit under the skin behind the ear.
When light enters the eye and reaches the chip it stimulates the pixels which sends electronic signals to the optic nerve and from there to the brain.
The chip can have its sensitivity altered via an external power unit which connects to the chip via a magnetic disc on the scalp.
Chris James from Wroughton in Wiltshire said there was a "magic moment" when the implant was switched on for the first time and he saw flashing lights - showing that the device was functional.
"I am able to make out a curve or a straight line close-up but I find things at distance more difficult. It is still early days as I have to learn to interpret the signals being sent to my brain from the chip."
Mr James, a motor-racing enthusiast, says his ambition is to be able to make out the silhouettes of different cars on the race-track.
Prof MacLaren, who fitted the first implant in the UK at the Oxford Eye Hospital, said:
It's the first time that British patients who were completely blind have been able to see something.
"In previous studies of restorative vision involving stem cells and other treatments, patients always had some residual sight.
"Here the patients had no light perception at all but the implant reactivated their retina after more than a decade."
The chip results in the brain receiving flashes of light rather than conventional vision - and it is in black and white rather than colour.
But in an unexpected development, the other British man to have the implant says he is now able to dream in colour for the first time in 25 years. Robin Millar says he is also able to stand in a room and detect light coming through windows.
Prof MacLaren said the results might not seem extraordinary to the sighted, but for a totally blind person to be able to orientate themselves in a room, and perhaps know where the doors and windows are, would be "extremely useful" and of practical help.
In 2010 a Finnish man who received the experimental chip was able to identify letters, but his implant worked only in a laboratory setting, whereas the British men's devices are portable. The implant was developed by a German company, Retina Implant AG.
Mr Tim Jackson, eye surgeon at King's College Hospital who has also fitted one of the devices, said:
"This pioneering treatment is at an early stage of development, but it is an important and exciting step forward, and may ultimately lead to a much improved quality of life for people who have lost their sight from retinitis pigmentosa.
"Most of the people who receive this treatment have lost their vision for many years, if not decades. The impact of them seeing again, even if it is not normal vision, can be profound, and at times quite moving."
Both surgeons stress that the chip is not a treatment but part of a clinical trial. Up to a dozen British patients will be fitted with the implants.
Although it could ultimately benefit patients with the most common form of progressive blindness, age-related macular degeneration, they are not eligible for the study at present.
Nor are patients with glaucoma or optic nerve disease.
Nick Astbury, Chair of VISION 2020 UK, a global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness said: "This trial will bring hope to two million blind and partially-sighted people living in the UK. It is the first step on a long journey to help people with sight loss to see again and live independently".
Ray, what I think people need to do is to question the medications; when getting it filled, tell the pharmacist what they are presently taking and any medical conditions they have and usually the pharmacist would have an idea if it would be a problem and if not, they have PDR's and can look it up and double check for you. It certainly would not hurt in the situation that you have with the people that stand in for doctors.
'Antipsychotic drugs made me want to kill myself'
While antipsychotic drugs are seen as the most effective treatment of psychotic episodes, they are also recognised to have devastating side effects.
Doctors say many patients don't like taking medication long term, but a study published in the Lancet suggests that taking antipsychotic medication more than halves the risk of relapse in schizophrenic patients.
"I used to see nasty, dirty rat-like things running around when I went outside, I could see people in the streets screaming abuse at me and making obscene and threatening gestures.
"I was hearing a voice that was saying all kinds of nasty things about me. I was terrified, I tried to kill myself."
David Strange was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 25. He was sectioned and given antipsychotic drugs, which he says made him feel "a bit better for a while," but gave him a succession of unpleasant side effects.
But without medication, the voice he hears is a constant stream of abuse that "comments on what other people are thinking and the horrible things they want to do to me".
Professor of psychiatry Stefan Leucht, from the Technische Universitat in Munich, led the latest research. He also found that fewer patients on antipsychotic drugs were readmitted to hospital - one of the highest costs associated with mental illnesses.
David says taking antipsychotic drugs for 14 years has helped him deal with his hallucinations and the voices he hears. They are still present but they no longer dominate his life.
One of the many drugs he was given was thioridazine, which gave him an irregular heartbeat, something which can be potentially fatal. David remembers lying down with his heart beating really fast, thinking he did not have long left to live.
"Some drugs made me so anxious I tried to kill myself and ended up getting locked up in hospital."
Even what he refers to as the "good ones" give him muscle and joint pain, jerkiness similar to the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease and severe sexual dysfunction.
But he says he would still rather take the drugs than try and function without them.
"Being unmedicated is an unliveable hell. I'm happy to put up with all of this just to be more functional and less scared."
This post was modified from its original form on 06 May, 9:59
'Price to pay'
The longer antipsychotic drugs are taken, the more chronic the side effects become. The nature of mental illness means patients are often prescribed medication for the rest of their lives.
Daniel Levy, aged 54, has bipolar disorder and has been taking antipsychotic drugs for nearly 30 years. During that time he has been sectioned and has also attempted suicide.
"The drug chlorpromazine made me tremble, it also made me dribble. When I first became ill I was warned there are certain drugs that weaken the lower lip, even now I still dribble.
"I don't know I'm doing it until I notice it on my clothes. It looks absolutely terrible."
But the drug did help him to stay out of hospital and was effective in controlling his symptoms.
"The side effects are the price I pay for keeping out of hospital," says Daniel.
"It's a balancing act - doctors never know in advance how you will react to a particular drug."
Newer "atypical" antipsychotic drugs show fewer of the physical tremor-inducing side effects and are commonly prescribed to patients starting treatment for the first time, says Dr Oliver Howes from the Institute of Psychiatry.
These still often lead to severe weight gain, increasing the risk of diabetes, blood clots and cardiovascular diseases. The risk is especially high for patients who stay on medication for many decades.
"We have no way of knowing in advance if a given drug is going to suit a patient - so sometimes patients have to try several before they find one that both helps them and is tolerable," says Dr Howes.
Unfortunately the drugs with the most side effects are also the ones which have been shown to be the most effective and are supported by many years of research, says Prof Leucht.
He says that if a patient experiences unpleasant side effects, their clinician should always try another drug, but acknowledges that this is not always possible in practice as some doctors are afraid to change their patient's medication if it appears to be working well.
Dr Howes says the side effects of antipsychotics need to be put into perspective.
"Mental health illnesses are devastating. There is a substantial loss of life associated with illnesses such as schizophrenia, predominantly from suicide. We want to prevent that."
Antipsychotic drugs explained
- Antipsychotic medication helps weaken delusions and hallucinations. It can control (but not cure) symptoms in about four out of five people
- Older antipsychotics work by reducing the action of a chemical in the brain called dopamine. They can cause side effects such as stiffness, shakiness, restlessness, sexual problems and unwanted movements, mainly of the mouth and tongue
- Newer antipsychotics work on different chemicals in the brain. These are less likely to produce unwanted movements but can cause weight gain, diabetes, tiredness and sexual problems
Source: Royal College of Psychiatrists
NICE releases new pain relief guidelines
Morphine is one of several powerful painkillers known as opioids
Many patients with advanced cancer and other debilitating conditions are being "under-treated" for their pain, new guidance from the health watchdog says.
NICE wants doctors in England and Wales to make more use of morphine and other strong opioids - the only adequate pain relief source for many patients.
The guidelines recommend doctors discuss patients' concerns.
These may include addiction, tolerance, side-effects and fears that treatment implies the final stage of life.
The guidance deals with five opioids: morphine, diamorphine (heroin), buprenorphine, fentanyl and oxycodone. They come either from the opium poppy or are synthetically produced versions.
NICE says "misinterpretations and misunderstanding" have surrounded the use of strong opioids for decades, which has resulted in errors "causing under-dosing and avoidable pain, or overdosing and distressing adverse effects".
There is also the legacy of Dr Harold Shipman who used diamorphine to murder his victims. It has made many doctors wary of prescribing strong opioids.
NICE says the aim is to improve both pain management and patient safety.
Mike Bennett, St Gemma's professor of palliative medicine at the University of Leeds, said: "Almost half of patients with advanced cancer are under-treated for their pain, largely because clinicians are reluctant to use strong opioids."
Prof Bennett said the issue also applied to the late stages of other conditions such as heart failure and neurological disorders.
In a summary of the guidance in the British Medical Journal, he said doctors should address patients' concerns and reassure them that addiction is "very rare".
Doctors are also told to advise patients about side-effects, including constipation, which can be treated with laxatives.
Dr Fiona Hicks, chairwoman of the Royal College of Physicians' recent working party on improving end-of-life care, said she welcomed the new NICE guidelines with its "emphasis on strong communication with patients, including how to help patients cope with both taking opioids and deal with the side-effects."
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Compassion in Dying, said: "This guideline will support healthcare professionals in providing good end-of-life care across all settings, and will help to ensure that many people have
what they consider to be a good death with their pain properly managed."
Patients suffering under NHS rationing, say GPs
Patients are waiting longer for operations, says the BMA
Creeping rationing of NHS care in England is making patients suffer unnecessarily, doctors are warning.
People needing knee and hip replacements are having to wait longer in pain for operations, the British Medical Association says.
And relatively minor treatments - such as varicose vein removal - are being scrapped altogether, medics at the BMA's annual GP conference will say.
Ministers say front-line services should not be affected by budget cuts.
But GPs believe the problems are being caused by the drive to make savings.
The NHS has been told to make up to £20bn of savings by 2015.
GPs 'increasingly worried'
A series of motions has been put forward at the conference, which starts in Liverpool on Tuesday, warning about the impact of cuts.
One motion says the principle that the NHS is "free at the point of access" is now misleading.
It has already been well-documented that procedures such as varicose vein removal and fertility treatment are being rationed.
But GPs will say it has gone much further than that recently.
Speaking ahead of the two-day conference, Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the BMA's GPs committee, said: "Most people understand the NHS is not a bottomless pit and there are limitations to what can be done.
"But GPs are increasingly getting worried about rationing. There are huge variations in what can and can't be provided from place to place.
"We are also seeing more restrictions on when we can refer patients. It means people needing things such as hip and knee replacements wait longer and suffer unnecessarily."
The issue of charging patients for treatments not available on the NHS is also likely to be discussed.
Restrictions mean treatments for problems such as minor skin surgery are not always available.
Some GPs are trained to provide these and could do so privately but are prevented from doing so by current NHS rules.
Some doctors are lobbying for this restriction to be lifted, although there are concerns it could compromise the doctor-patient relationship.
Health Minister Lord Howe said: "Last year made we made it clear that it is unacceptable for the NHS to impose blanket bans for treatment on the basis of costs.
"That is why we banned Primary Care Trusts from putting caps on the number of people who could have certain operations and from imposing minimum waiting times."
Stafford twins' death: Failings in care, says coroner
There were "failings" in the care of premature twins who died after being given an overdose of morphine, a coroner has ruled.
Alfie and Harry McQuillin, who were born at Stafford Hospital, died on 1 November 2010, at two days old.
Staffordshire coroner Andrew Haigh said the morphine overdose "played a part in their deaths" but the hospital was not guilty of gross neglect.
The NHS Trust said it was "very sorry" the care given was "not good enough".
In recording a narrative verdict, the coroner said he could not say the babies died of natural causes and they had received "sub-optimal treatment".
He said the cause of their deaths was "complications in extreme prematurity".
The twins were born 13 weeks early on 30 October 2010.
The coroner's court heard they were put onto a ventilator and given a dose of morphine, which was standard practice, but there was confusion over the exact amount that should be administered.
Their condition began to deteriorate so the twins were transferred to University Hospital of North Staffordshire but later died.
The twins' mother Ami Dean, 25, said their deaths were "totally avoidable".
"I could have coped with them dying from prematurity, as that would have been nobody's fault," she said.
"[Their deaths] were down to human error, which is something I cannot cope with."
Miss Dean, who is expecting a daughter in August, and her partner Philip McQuillin are pursuing a personal injury claim against Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.