The Express has reported that last year 34,000 medication errors were made, with 21 incidents leading to patient death, and a further 27 leading to serious harm.

It revealed that overall, 5,500 patients were damaged in some way by a mistake with their prescription – for example by being given the wrong medication, wrong dosage, or not being supplied with the medication when it was needed.

The new figures reported in The Express came to light following a response to a question from Labour’s shadow health minister Karin Smyth MP. This revealed that over 30,000 medication errors were reported last year across all NHS trusts.

In comparison, according to reports in The Guardian, almost 6,000 people experienced harm as a result of prescription errors in 2021, with 29 people dying as a result. In total, that year there were 43,452 prescription errors recorded on the national reporting and learning system (NRLS).

The reported figures are despite significant investments in technology to replace outdated paper prescribing methods. The Department of Health and Social Care has previously stated that an increase in the number of trusts using ePMA systems would lead to a 30% reduction in medication errors, when compared to traditional methods, as well as a similar reduction in the number of patient adverse drug events.

In 2022, NHSX – the now-retired organisation tasked with driving forwards digitalisation – stated that around half of NHS trusts were then using ePMA systems – with another 25-30% already funded to go live in the following 12-18 months.

However, a 2023 survey from the BMJ revealed that despite progress towards electronic records and prescribing, three-quarters of trusts in England are still reliant on paper notes and drug charts. Of the 172 trusts that responded to the survey, 110 said they used a mixture of electronic and paper prescribing, 16 relied solely on paper drug charts and just 46 said they only used an electronic system.

This hybrid approach to prescribing could be exacerbating the issue, and hampering efforts to implement ePMAs successfully. Back in 2019, The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch advised “the use of paper and electronic systems in parallel should be minimised to reduce the risk of error caused by multiple data entry/retrieval sources” after an investigation into a patient’s death where medication paper records were not transcribed into the ePMA.

The deadline for all trusts using an EPMA has now been pushed back to 2025, with the government acknowledging that “more work is needed” and blaming a lack of digital maturity and funding for missing the original 2024 target.

With the spring budget bringing an additional £3.4 billion of new investment into NHS digitisation, a new focus on eprescribing could be imminent.