THOUSANDS of patients in Scotland have been prescribed the wrong drugs during the last five years in hospitals and community pharmacies, figures released under freedom of information laws show.
There were 3,331 incidents since 2010 of people being given medication not intended for them, with compensation pay-outs to those affected reaching nearly £200,000 during that period.
The catalogue of incidents showed patients had been wrongly prescribed insulin, steroids, warfarin and heroin substitute methadone in cases health campaigners said were “frightening” and “shocking”.
Most of the mistakes took place in Scotland’s largest health board area, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, where there were 1,840 cases of people handed the wrong medicines.
There were also 307 such mistakes in Dumfries and Galloway, 231 in Grampian and 200 in the Highlands, the figures showed.
Health boards responding to freedom of information requests were unable to state what the consequences of the mistakes were and whether people’s health had been damaged.
However, Margaret Watt, of the Scotland Patients Association, said people taking drugs not intended for them could suffer poor health as she called on ministers to tighten up the rules on how medicines are dispensed. She said: “It’s a shocking finding as patients put their faith in the system and it’s particularly concerning as drugs not meant for a patient could cause a lot of harm to them.
“The service needs to tighten up and look at what’s happening as people are being given medicines not intended for them which is frightening.”
The health boards in Fife and Grampian paid out £163,500 and £29,250 respectively to settle claims arising from errors, while Lanarkshire made £3,000 in such payments – a Scotland-wide total of £195,750.
A further 10 live claims for patient compensation against Scotland’s NHS over wrongly dispensed prescriptions are in progress, with the health service in Fife, Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Grampian, Lanarkshire, Orkney and Tayside all facing actions.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw, whose party obtained the figures, said that the findings could erode patient confidence in the NHS as he warned that the mistakes were putting vulnerable people at risk.
He said: “While so much of the focus recently has been on the cost of prescriptions, we must also recognise that there’s an issue with errors in prescribing.
“To see thousands of such incidents occurring in the last five years threatens the confidence patients and their relatives have in the NHS.
“There is also the risk of serious harm occurring to the most vulnerable people.”
A spokeswoman for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), the professional body for pharmacists, said the cases of wrongly prescribed drugs represented a “tiny fraction” of medicines dispensed to patients in Scotland.
The RPS spokeswoman said: “In 2014/15, 101.1 million medicines were supplied through the NHS in Scotland, and a similar amount were dispensed in previous years, which means the level of incidents is a tiny fraction of the number of supplies of medicines made correctly to patients.” .