An estimated three million medication errors take place in public acute hospitals every year and a national strategic approach to reduce this figure is warranted, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has said.
It has just published a report of the findings of a medication safety monitoring programme, which it carried out in 34 hospitals between November 2016 and October 2017.
It revealed that while the majority of hospitals had some form of medication safety programme in place, one-third of hospitals had no formal plan or strategy to direct medication safety improvement activities.
HIQA highlighted ‘widespread inconsistencies and unwarranted variation in medication safety systems across hospitals nationally'.
It is currently estimated that one medication error occurs per hospital patient per day, which is around three million medication errors per year.
The report noted that in some hospitals, there was significant under-reporting of medication incidents, and only 13 hospitals had a documented list of approved medications and a system for evaluating new medicines in place.
Meanwhile, one in three hospitals that were inspected had no formal plan or strategy to direct medication safety activities, and inspectors found disparities in clinical pharmacy service provision, both in how they were provided and the resources allocated to them.
Overall, 21 hospitals had a functioning drugs and therapeutics committee to oversee medication safety, but the other 13 required strengthening of their governance structures to support a medication safety programme.
"As modern medicine continues to advance, increasing medication treatment options are available for patients with proven benefit for treating illness and preventing disease.
"This advancement has brought with it an increase in the risks, errors and adverse events associated with medication use. Therefore, it is essential that hospitals have necessary elements in place to ensure patient safety in line with best practice and research," commented Aoife Lenihan, HIQA's inspector manager in healthcare regulation.
She emphasised that there is a ‘fundamental requirement to improve medication safety' in order to protect patients from harm.
"Although most errors do not result in patient harm, medication errors have the potential to result in catastrophic harm or death and the majority are preventable," Ms Lenihan said.
HIQA noted that this is an area where hospitals can learn from other hospitals.
"There is considerable potential for improving medication safety systems by learning from the work and efforts of other hospitals. While collaboration between hospitals is happening in relation to improving medication safety, a greater focus on collaboration at a hospital group and national level would reduce duplicated effort, and lead to faster progression in driving collective improvement in medication safety," it said.
It recommended a national approach to strategic planning for medication safety to reduce the number of errors and improve patient safety.
The full HIQA report can be viewed here