Incident reporting is promoted as a key tool for improving patient safety in healthcare. We analysed 2238 patient safety incidents involving medications submitted from up to 29 critical care units each year in the North West of England between 2009 and 2012; 452 (20%) of these incidents led to harm to patients. Although 1461 (65%) incidents were judged to have been preventable, there was no reduction in the rate of incidents per 1000 days between 2009 and 2012 (5.9 in 2009, 6.6 in 2012). Furthermore, in the 2012 data, there were wide variations in the incident rates between units, the median (IQR [range]) rate per 1000 patient days for individual units being 6.8 (3.8-11.0 [1.3-37.1]). The variation in the percentage that could have been avoided was narrower, with a median (IQR [range]) of 70% (61-80% [38-100%]). The most commonly reported drugs were noradrenaline (161 incidents, 92 with harm), heparins (153 incidents, 29 with harm), morphine (131 incidents, 14 with harm) and insulin (111 incidents, 54 with harm). The administration of drugs was the stage in the process where incidents were most commonly reported; it was also the stage most likely to harm patients. We conclude that the wide range in reported rates between units, and the scope for preventing many incidents, suggest that quality improvement initiatives could improve medication safety in the units studied.
© 2014 The Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland.