Since legislation in 2009, coroners in England and Wales must make reports in cases where they believe it is possible to prevent future deaths. We categorised the reports and examined whether they could reveal preventable medication errors or novel adverse drug reactions.
We examined 500 coroners’ reports by pre-defined criteria to identify those in which medicines played a part, and to collect information on coroners’ concerns.
We identified 99 reports (100 deaths) in which medicines or a part of the medication process or both were mentioned. Reports mentioned anticoagulants (22 reports), opioids (17), antidepressants (17), drugs of abuse excluding opioids (12 deaths) and other drugs. The most important concerns related to adverse reactions to prescribed medicines (22), omission of necessary treatment (21), failure to monitor treatment (17) and poor systems (17). These were related to defects in education or training, lack of clear guidelines or protocols and failure to implement existing guidelines, among other reasons. Most reports went either to NHS Hospital Trusts or to local trusts. The responses of addressees were rarely published. We identified four safety warnings from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency that were based on coroners’ warnings.
Coroners’ reports to prevent future deaths provide some information on medication errors and adverse reactions. They rarely identify new hazards. At present they are often addressed to local bodies, but this could mean that wider lessons are lost.