Three trusts have signed up to a pilot scheme aimed at cutting deaths and injuries caused by injectable medication errors.

From April, Derby Hospitals foundation trust, United Lincolnshire Hospitals trust and a
third trust, which has not yet been named, will start using standardised systems and factory-prepared dosages.

It is hoped that this can reduce injectable medication incidents, which account for nearly a quarter of reported drug errors.

Over 600 million medications are prescribed every year in the NHS and, while errors are relatively few, the consequences can be fatal.

Figures from the Healthcare Commission published last year show that hospitals make 40,000 medication mistakes a year. Most errors caused no harm, but 2,000 led to moderate or severe harm or, in 36 cases, death.

It is hoped the scheme will eradicate fatal blunders such as those involving the injected chemotherapy drug vincristine. Doctors wrongly injecting the drug into a patient's spine rather than a vein have caused 15 deaths since 2001.

The pilot scheme will cover the purchasing, supply, storage, management, preparation and administration of injectable medicines and equipment.

The scheme is a partnership between the National Patient Safety Agency, the medicines industry and the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency.

The trusts involved will look at ways of rationalising the devices and medicines supplied to them, by eliminating or reducing the numbers of injectable drugs requiring complex dosage calculation or dilution.

They will also move away from 'open system' medication to pre-prepared products and develop centralised storage using standardised packaging identifiable by colour, design and labels.

Each trust will examine its own reported patient safety incidents to highlight priorities and areas of high risk and give a baseline measurement so their safety record can be put in the context of the national picture.

The project will run for 12 months.