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Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Fears over blood pressure test errors
A nurse taking a patient's blood pressure
Blood pressure equipment needs calibrating more often
Outdated and inaccurate blood pressure equipment in doctors' surgeries is resulting in wrong diagnoses, according to research by Birmingham University.

The inaccurate results mean patients are being prescribed medication that is not needed, public health experts at Birmingham University said.

Doctors are failing to carry out simple tests on their equipment to ensure the blood pressure readings are accurate.

Dr Tom Marshall and Dr Andrew Rouse of the university's public health department surveyed more than 200 Birmingham general practitioners.

taking blood pressure
Most people assume checks are being done
They found that one in five sphygmanometers, used to measure blood pressure, were inaccurate.

At least 100 instruments were in such poor condition that researchers recommended they should not be used.

A simple method called calibration is used to confirm whether the equipment is working properly.

Similar calibration tests of wheel-balancing equipment and radar guns are done on a regular basis, as often as once a week, Dr Marshall said.

Unnecessary medication

The GPs involved seem to be vaguely aware that testing of the equipment is a problem, but they are not taking any action, he said.

"There is a degree of complacency about this problem within the medical profession," he added.

Young women under the age of 30 rarely have high blood pressure, but these inaccurate results mean some of them are being put on medication for life that is not necessary, the survey report said.

Women in that age bracket are often given blood pressures tests when they visit GPs for pregnancy tests or contraceptive advice.

Side effects of medication used to treat high blood pressure include headaches and fatigue.

There is a degree of complacency about this problem within the medical profession.

Dr Tom Marshall, Birmingham University

Most patients assume the calibration is being done and do not ask about it, Dr Marshall said.

"I would like to see a system in place that would see GPs taking responsibility for the maintenance and checking of this equipment," he said.

He suggested that patients ask their GPs if the blood pressure equipment has been properly checked.

He added that the legal and ethical questions that arise from the lack of proper equipment should be addressed.

Only one primary health group in the Birmingham area carried out checks on the equipment after being informed of the survey results.

See also:

28 Sep 99 | Health
Public ignorant on blood pressure
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