Diabetes UK Cymru highlights NHS medication errors

by Mark Benson on November 20, 2012

Diabetes UK Cymru highlights NHS medication errors

The well-known diabetes charity Diabetes UK Cymru has issued a report today which is highly critical of the NHS in Wales with regards to the treatment of diabetics. This is not the first time that medication errors have been highlighted by the various diabetes charities across the UK although this particular report quotes a number of figures which, assuming they are correct, should prompt additional funding for NHS Wales.

While the headline suggests that errors are being made by NHS staff in relation to those suffering from diabetes we need to take a look at the background to this situation which is not assisting medical staff on the ground.

Diabetes in Wales

The increase in the number of diabetics across Wales has been dramatic over the last five years with official data suggesting a rise of around 28%. There are officially 160,000 diabetics in Wales and this figure is expected to top 250,000 by 2025. While these figures are bad enough in their own right it is also believed that in excess of 66,000 people in Wales currently have diabetes but have yet to be diagnosed. Against this backdrop the data regarding NHS medication errors needs to be addressed sooner rather than later but there are a number of factors to take into consideration.

Diabetic checks

If we take a step back from NHS treatment for diabetics across Wales the charity Diabetes UK Cymru has highlighted what it believes is a major problem with simple checks. It is believed that in excess of 70% of adults with type I diabetes are not getting access to sufficient checks and 43% of those with type II diabetes are also struggling with this particular service.

Blood glucose tests are vital to the well-being of any diabetic and indeed blood glucose tests are also vital to the well-being of anybody who has yet to be diagnosed with the condition. If these figures are correct then we have a major problem for diabetics in Wales. When you bear in mind that the number of diabetics is expected to increase dramatically in the short to medium term the government and the authorities in Wales are certainly playing a game of catch-up in relation to funding and quality of service.

Medication errors

There is growing concern that potentially one in three NHS patients with diabetes have experienced medication errors during their time under NHS care. While the type of medication error does vary widely across-the-board the reality is that for some people it has led to life challenging situations and indeed fatalities. There are a number of reasons why medication errors occur which include:-

Misinformation

Investigations by the Diabetes UK Cymru seem to suggest that a number of diabetic medication errors occur because of misinformation and incomplete data. Unless nurses and medical staff are given sufficient data about all illnesses and all considerations for individual patients then very often it is easy to assume an incorrect diagnosis or medical requirements. This is not to say that human errors do occur but the more detailed information on individual diabetic patients the better chance of them obtaining the correct medication at the correct time.

Experience

One thing which is becoming more and more evident across the NHS, and indeed across a number of other public bodies, is the fact that government budget cuts very often put inexperienced staff in very difficult positions. Diabetes, as well as any other medical condition, has its complications, requires experienced care and the potential impact of medication errors can be fatal. While it would be wrong to suggest that all medical staff were inexperienced we have seen a significant reduction in funding for specialised diabetes staff.

Even though many of us will read online about the side effects of diabetes, the symptoms of diabetes and gain a general knowledge of the matter, it is very difficult if you are treating a number of patients who have different medical conditions and different requirements.

Funding issues

It is very easy to point the finger in relation to problems in the NHS but the reality is that of the seven Welsh health boards across the country only one health board has increased the number of specialist diabetic nurses over the last four years. While five of the seven boards have maintained the same number of specialist staff, it was revealed that one of the health boards across Wales has actually reduced the number of diabetic specialists working in their hospitals.

To balance the argument it is worth pointing out that funding issues are not only being experienced by Welsh health authorities as there is evidence of similar experiences across the UK. However, with diabetes set to become one of the largest killers around the world over the next 20 years or so surely this should prompt a significant increase in government expenditure in specialised diabetic care on the NHS?

Complaints

The Diabetes UK Cymru charity has been very active in relation to problems within the NHS for diabetics and indeed a number of complaints have been unearthed. While the severity and the nature of these complaints does vary from individual to individual the broad impression is that more and more diabetics are experiencing medication errors during their time under NHS care. These complaints will be investigated thoroughly by the relevant health boards and hopefully in due course we will hear their conclusions.

Conclusion

It will come as no surprise to learn that funding cuts across the NHS are now beginning to hit home in areas such as Wales where the number of diabetics continues to grow. As if the increase of 28% over the last five years was not enough, official data suggests that this figure will top 250,000 by the year 2025. This would be a phenomenal increase of around 90,000 during that period with a further 66,000 people undiagnosed.

There is only so much that medical staff and nurses can do under intense pressure and funding cuts. It is worth noting there has been limited investment in specialist diabetes staff across NHS Wales and indeed one of the seven health boards has actually reduced its expenditure in this area. There is much hot air from the UK government with regards to investing in diabetes treatments although so far there has been very little in the way of additional cold hard cash released to NHS authorities across the UK. This will need to change sooner rather than later!


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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