To examine the standards of lithium monitoring in eastern Hull following the introduction of a local prescribing framework, we investigated the biochemistry records of patients currently prescribed lithium, identified from primary care computerised records. A survey of patients' knowledge about lithium therapy was also conducted.
Inadequate standards of lithium monitoring were demonstrated, with only 50% of patients having a level recorded during the preceding 3 months. Monitoring of thyroid and renal function was better, with two-thirds of patients tested in the past year. Patients' knowledge of the side-effects and risks of lithium was minimal; only 7 out of 27 patients questioned felt able to identify the signs of lithium toxicity; three-quarters of those surveyed felt they had not been given enough information about their medication.
The introduction of prescribing frameworks or other guidelines does not ensure good practice. Further actions may be needed to ensure lithium is prescribed safely, such as patient registers, monitoring cards and automatic recall systems. Education of patients and primary care staff about the safe use of psychotropic drugs needs to be an ongoing process.
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