Drug errors blamed on 'staff shortage'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 October, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 October, 1997, 12:00am

An increase in the number of hospital patients receiving the wrong drugs has been blamed on staff shortages.

Hospital Authority figures released yesterday showed there had been a 20 per cent increase with many cases attributed to staff suffering stress or being distracted by extra work.

A spokesman for the Public Doctors' Association, Andrew Yip Wai-chun, blamed the shortage of staff in hospitals and the nature of the work.

'Public doctors face many more distractions compared with private doctors.

'We need to run around the hospitals because our duties are much broader - filling in forms, performing surgery, teaching, taking care of out-patient consultations and routine checkups,' he said.

'Our stress just builds up with these distractions because each job demands its own deadline.' He urged the Government to review the system.

'The shortage of doctors is a well-known fact. If the Government wants to improve the situation it must look seriously into the costs and resources implications.' Figures provided by the authority's chief pharmacist showed there were 5,485 incidents where the wrong drugs were administered in the fourth quarter of last year, up from 4,680 in the third quarter.

One-third were due to stress or job distractions, while non-compliance with official procedures represented 14 per cent of the cases.

Other causes included deficient performance, inadequate knowledge or skills, confusing dosage and drug names, as well as communication failure.

Errors in prescribing accounted for about 60 per cent of cases.

But more than 95 per cent of incidents were detected before the drugs were taken.

An authority spokesman said the problem could be related to a shortage of staff.

'We are studying overall manpower, but it's not necessarily implying the need for extra manpower. Their stress could be released if their paperwork and other administrative duties were cut,' she said.