An assessment is being developed to test doctors on their knowledge of medicines to help prevent prescribing errors.

The British Pharmacological Society is developing the test, as well as a website where students can prescribe drugs to virtual patients, to raise the standards of current training, which it calls “piecemeal”.

Earlier this month, a study from the General Medical Council found that nurses and pharmacists were often correcting mistakes made by doctors with prescriptions, with experienced staff acting as a “safety net”.

The study was welcomed by the British Pharmacological Society, but it added that there needed to be more focus on educating medical students properly. Previous research found that students only filled out a handful of prescription cards during their degrees, but were expected to complete 50 or 60 a day after graduating.

Professor Simon Maxwell, chairman of the British Pharmacological Society prescribing committee, said prescribing was the “core business of the NHS” and the evidence of a problem with its quality was “now overwhelming”.

After staffing costs, medicines account for the biggest cost for the health service, and mistakes with prescriptions could lead to compensation claims against the NHS.

Professor Maxwell said: “We recognise that the majority of prescriptions are appropriate, safe and effective (but) the evidence is now unequivocal that there are problems.”