UK & World News
UK Hospitals Breach Drug Storage Security
A Sky News investigation has uncovered serious failings surrounding the security of medicines and controlled drugs in British hospitals.
A third of NHS trusts surveyed had audits showing that either medicines were not locked away; missing drugs were unaccounted for or medications were administered by unauthorised staff.
The findings come in the wake of an incident at Stepping Hill hospital where six people died after saline solution was contaminated with insulin.
The research uncovered that on a ward in Mid-Essex, the access code for the drugs cupboard was written next to the keypad and staff failed to challenge a visitor who accessed a utility room.
In Blackpool Fylde & Wyre, 89% of medicines storage rooms were neither locked nor temperature-monitored.
At Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, 93% of insulin fridges were left unlocked and more than half of insulin was out of date.
At the Heart of England trust, despite daily checks on drug stock, 60% of all drugs that went missing could not be accounted for.
The outside of medicine cabinets at Wirral University Hospital were labelled with the name of the drugs inside and intravenous fluids were often left lying on the floor.
While at Bart's & the London, faulty locks led to staff securing medicine cupboards with medical tape and elastic bands.
In total, Sky contacted 166 NHS acute trusts and requested a copy of their last medicines and controlled-drugs security audit.
:: Named and shamed, see the full list of hospitals contacted by Sky News here
Out of 94 audits received, just 34 (36%) revealed security failings in at least one criteria.
Ten of the trusts contacted had also not completed an overall audit, but claimed to conduct daily spot checks on medicine security and stock levels.
Five trusts claimed they conducted regular audits, but refused to disclose them for "security" reasons.
A further 57 trusts failed to respond to Sky's requests in time - a breach of Freedom of Information legislation.
Although medicine security audits are not compulsory, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society recommends they should be done every three to six months and after staff changes.
Commenting on the findings, Jim Smith, former chief pharmacist at the Department of Health and emeritus professor of pharmacy, said: "The controlled drugs issue has been massively important since the Harold Shipman murders and there's been a lot of legislation and regulation around the issue.
"Fridges containing medicines must be locked for security reasons and because medicines will deteriorate if the temperature isn't controlled.
"It's also a question of how medicines are administered and prescribed and making sure there are no administration errors.
"At regular intervals, against an agreed schedule and a list of objectives, a proper audit should be done.
"In fairness to NHS trusts, they're under huge pressure at the moment. These things take time and resources which at the moment are stretched pretty thin."
The Department of Health's chief pharmaceutical officer, Keith Ridge, said he would consider contacting the hospitals surveyed by Sky News to ensure improvements are made.
"The standards are absolutely clear. Every hospital should have in place a robust policy for the safe and secure handling of medicines.
"The Care Quality Commission would expect evidence that trusts are complying with those standards."
Mid-Essex trust responded by saying security failings identified in the audit were "actioned immediately".
Blackpool, Fylde & Wyre said they took patient safety extremely seriously and that they carried out regular audits to ensure the safe storage and handling of controlled medicines.
Addenbrookes claimed they had driven through "significant improvements" since the investigation and that most fridges were now locked and temperature monitored.
The Heart of England trust said that in a six-month period where they treated over 170,000 patients, only 30 incidents were reported.
Wirral University hospital told Sky a detailed action plan has since been implemented which has resulted in "significant improvements" in all areas of medicine security.
Barts & the London said they were in the process of replacing all out-of-date or faulty medicine lockers with lockable cabinets so that medicines could be held securely.
Some NHS trusts surveyed appeared to deliver excellent results. Aintree University Hospitals scored a perfect 100% in their audit in April 2011.
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