What causes medication administration errors in a mental health hospital? A qualitative study with nursing staff [2018]

Medication administration errors (MAEs) are a common risk to patient safety in mental health hospitals, but an absence of in-depth studies to understand the underlying causes of these errors limits the development of effective remedial interventions. This study aimed to investigate the causes of MAEs affecting inpatients in a mental health National Health Service (NHS) hospital in the North West of England.

Registered and student mental health nurses working in inpatient psychiatric units were identified using a combination of direct advertisement and incident reports and invited to participate in semi-structured interviews utilising the critical incident technique. Interviews were designed to capture the participants’ experiences of inpatient MAEs. All interviews were transcribed verbatim and subject to framework analysis to illuminate the underlying active failures, error/violation-provoking conditions and latent failures according to Reason’s model of accident causation.

A total of 20 participants described 26 MAEs (including 5 near misses) during the interviews. The majority of MAEs were skill-based slips and lapses (n = 16) or mistakes (n = 5), and were caused by a variety of interconnecting error/violation-provoking conditions relating to the patient, medicines used, medicines administration task, health care team, individual nurse and working environment. Some of these local conditions had origins in wider organisational latent failures. Recurrent and influential themes included inadequate staffing levels, unbalanced staff skill mix, interruptions/distractions, concerns with how the medicines administration task was approached and problems with communication.

To our knowledge this is the first published in-depth qualitative study to investigate the underlying causes of specific MAEs in a mental health hospital. Our findings revealed that MAEs may arise due to multiple interacting error and violation provoking conditions and latent ‘system’ failures, which emphasises the complexity of this everyday task facing practitioners in clinical practice. Future research should focus on developing and testing interventions which address key local and wider organisational ‘systems’ failures to reduce error.

Richard N. Keers, Madalena Plácido, Karen Bennett, Kristen Clayton, Petra Brown, Darren M. Ashcroft

PLOS ONE, October 26, 2018