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Industry lukewarm on new labelling guidelines

Published on 31/10/03 at 01:54pm

New guidelines on the labelling of medicines have received a cautious welcome from the pharma industry.

The Government hopes the best practice guidelines will help it achieve a 40% cut in medication errors by 2005.

But the ABPI said labelling was rarely the cause of medication errors and that all the industry's labels already comply with existing UK and EU statutory requirements.

Andrew Curl, Deputy Director General of the ABPI, said: "While the ABPI supports all initiatives based on good evidence that improve patient safety, it is important that these guidelines are not taken as the complete answer to a problem that has many causes."

Last year a proposed 'number plate' system for labelling medicines fell foul of the industry association. The ABPI criticised that system for giving medicines an overly uniform look, which, it said, would actually lead to more errors in hospitals and pharmacies.

The Department of Health's report advises that five essential pieces of information - medicine name, strength, route of administration, dose and warnings - should be placed together on any pack or label.

Pharmaceutical companies are required by UK law to put 15 different pieces of information on a label, but differing standards and designs have been implicated in many preventable medication errors.

Health Minister Lord Hunt said: "Clear labelling and packaging of medicines is key to their safe use. It should be plain, clear and should let patients, carers and health professionals identify at a glance the information to make sure that the medicine can be used safely.

"I recommend these guidelines to the pharmaceutical industry with the aim of introducing best practice as they update their labelling."

The report, Best Practice Guidance on Medicines Labelling and Packaging, will complement Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson's initiative to reduce medication errors by 40% by 2005.

The new guidance, which took effect at the beginning of March 2003, also sets out the factors that should be considered when designing labels, including layout, size of text and colours used.

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