In a speech to the Patient Safety Conference in London today, the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, will set a five-year target to halve harm from prescribing errors. 

A large number of errors are still occurring from hand-written prescriptions. Rolling out an electronic prescribing system between GPs and pharmacists, aimed at cutting errors by 50%, should be welcomed by GPs who are already under enormous pressure.

The cost to the NHS is estimated at £98.5m for the 712 confirmed deaths from drug errors in hospital, according to the report conducted by university academics in Manchester, Sheffield and York, which is published today. It has identified more than 230 million medication errors a year; the "estimated cost to the NHS is £1.6bn and 3.8 million bed days”.

The costs of litigation, Inquests, disciplinary and regulatory proceedings arising out of drug errors are an increasing drain on NHS resources, and add to the increasing stress and pressure experienced by the medical profession.

Mr Hunt is expected to say that pharmacists will no longer be prosecuted for honest medication mistakes. Similar changes are expected for doctors following the outcry in the medical community over the GMC's erasure of Dr Bawa-Garba for mistakes that led the death of a six year old boy, resulting in a finding of gross negligence manslaughter.  Mr Hunt advocates moving from a culture of blame to a learning culture so that healthcare professionals are supported to be open about their mistakes rather than covering them up for fear of losing their job.

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