NHS risking patients’ lives with imperial scales
The NHS was today accused of placing patients’ lives at risk by failing to issue warnings about wrong medication as a result of using imperial scales to calculate doses in milligrams.
Robin Paice, Chairman of the UK Metric Association, commented: "It is scandalous that, despite being warned 16 months ago, almost a third of hospitals are still using scales that could result in large overdoses being given to vulnerable patients. Even more appalling is that the NHS has failed to issue an alert to all hospitals telling them to get rid of scales with imperial readouts. The consequences of giving the wrong dose to an ill premature baby do not bear thinking about."
Two years ago trading standards experts surveyed 203 NHS hospitals and found that 40% of scales in use were switchable between metric and imperial readouts.
The report commented:
"One of the most potentially harmful issues is that of switchable scales – those that can display metric, imperial and other units. The risk is that medication could be administered based on a readout that was assumed to be metric. Such confusion was responsible for the $125m failure of the Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft, and could easily happen in hospitals. Of the equipment surveyed, 303 scales were set to imperial units at the time of testing."
For the sequel to this story, see our blog article.
Final comment from Robin Paice:
"This potentially disastrous situation is all part of the great failure of successive British governments to complete the changeover to the metric system and phase out imperial units for all official and legal purposes. We really can’t go on like this – stuck in a muddle of imperial and metric units. The Government must show a bit of leadership and set an early date for completing the job that was started 44 years ago."