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Writing a prescription: the law and good practice

02 November 2021
Volume 13 · Issue 11


Paramedic independent prescribing offers an opportunity to improve patient access to medications. However, incomplete, unclear or incorrectly written prescriptions can cause harm to patients. This article in the Prescribing Paramedic series considers: the legal requirements a prescription must meet for prescription-only medicines and controlled drugs; common errors that may occur during prescription writing and potential solutions; and best practice recommendations for prescribers to follow when writing a prescription to minimise errors. The advantages and disadvantages of electronic prescribing are discussed.

More than 230 million medication errors are estimated to occur annually in England (Elliott, 2021). Of these, 21% happen at the prescribing stage and over 50% have the potential to cause moderate to severe patient harm (Elliott, 2021). Prescribing errors, including those in prescription writing, are relatively common but largely preventable causes of harm, occurring in 4.9% of prescriptions in primary care (Avery, 2012) and 7–10% on medical wards (Maxwell, 2016). It is hoped that, by highlighting the legal requirements and best practice recommendations for prescription writing, this article will reduce the risks associated by ensuring a legal, clear and complete prescription.

The legal requirements for writing a prescription are defined by regulation 217 of the Human Medicines Regulations 2012. For any prescription-only medicine to be sold or supplied, the prescription must:

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