'No excuse' for diabetes errors

Almost a third of diabetic hospital patients are victims of medication errors that can cause dangerous blood glucose levels, a report has found.

Hospitals in England and Wales made at least one mistake per inpatient in the treatment of 3,700 diabetes sufferers in one week, according to the National Diabetes Inpatient Audit.

During this period, the affected patients succumbed to more than double the number of severe hypoglycaemic, or "hypo", episodes that patients without errors suffered. Hypos occur when blood glucose levels drop dangerously low and if left untreated can lead to seizures, coma or death.

In addition, 68 patients developed diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) during their stay in hospital. DKA occurs when blood glucose levels are consistently high and can be fatal if not treated. This suggests that insulin treatment was not administered for a significant period of time, the report said.

According to the findings, 32% of 12,800 patients (3,430) experienced at least one medication error in the previous seven days of their hospital stay. This was a small improvement on the previous year, when the figure was 36.6%, or 4,120.

The most common errors involved failing to sign off on the patient's bedside information chart that insulin had been given, which happened to 11.1% of patients (440), and failing to appropriately adjust medication when the patient had a high blood sugar level, which happened to 23.9% (800).

Audit lead clinician Dr Gerry Rayman said: "Although it is pleasing to see there have been improvements in medication errors since the last audit, there is a long way to go and indeed the majority of hospital doctors and ward nurses still do not have basic training in insulin management and glucose control."

Diabetes UK said the findings were an indictment of how hospitals were failing to care for people with diabetes. Chief executive Barbara Young said: "Poor blood glucose management, caused by errors in hospital treatment, is leading to severe and dangerous consequences for too many people."

She added: "The fact that the situation has barely improved in the last year shows that the NHS is not yet taking this seriously enough. Urgent action is needed to make sure that general ward staff are competent and confident about treating inpatients with diabetes."

The Department of Health (DH) said medicine management has improved since 2010 but admitted there are still too many errors. A DH spokesperson said: "We will continue to work with clinicians to reduce errors so patients can be confident that the medicines they receive are safe and appropriate."