Prescribing is a large part of a GP’s practice and includes prescription of medication, medical devices or dressings. As a GP you should have comprehensive knowledge of and comply with the relevant statutes, legislation and guidelines governing the prescribing of medicinal products.1
A recent study into GP prescribing by the General Medical Council found that 1 in 5 prescriptions contained significant errors mainly regarding drug dosage and lack of instructions. Time pressures during consultation, complex computer software that made it easy to select the wrong drug or incorrect dose from drop-down menus and frequent distractions and interruptions during consultations were cited as the main contributing factors.2
Most GP prescriptions are now computer generated but if you are writing one by hand-write legibly in indelible ink. All prescriptions at a minimum should include: the date; the name address and telephone number of your GP practice; the patient’s full name, date of birth and address (DOB or age mandatory if child under 12); the medication, dose, strength, route and frequency should be clearly stated. All prescriptions should be signed by the prescriber and must include Medical Council number.
When issuing a prescription to a patient carefully explain:
It may be routine for other members of staff to write up or computer generate repeat prescriptions for you to sign. Whilst this may save time it is not without risk. Always ensure that:
Remember - You are ultimately responsible for these prescriptions and if a prescribing error occurs you are the one likely to be held accountable.
The full prescription must be handwritten, the drug formulation has to be specified, drug strength and quantity must be detailed in words and figures, the item cannot be repeated and must be dispensed within 2 weeks.
According to Medical Council guidance3 you should not self-prescribe and if you become ill should consult another doctor rather than treat yourself. You should also avoid prescribing to relatives except in the case of minor illness or in an emergency. If you do prescribe medication for a relative make a clear record of it including the reason for it, your relationship with the patient, and the reason it was necessary for you to prescribe.
It is essential that any practitioner prescribing medicines keep-up-to-date with ongoing developments and ensure your prescriptions are appropriate. Stay on the safe side-if you are unsure about interactions or other aspects of prescribing and medication management consult an experienced colleague or look it up. There are a number of sources of information available to support you in this including guidance from the Irish Medicines Board, the Irish Medicines Formulary, the British National Formulary (BNF) the Electronic Library for Medicines, and the National Prescribing Centre (UK).
1Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977 & 1984; Medical Council Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics 2009 para 59.22GMC 2nd May 20123Medical Council Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics 2009 Para 51.2 52.1