OTTAWA - A new study has found that nearly a fifth of the country's overworked and over-stretched nurses acknowledged making mistakes in medicating patients "occasionally'' or "frequently.''

The Statistics Canada study says nurses working overtime or where staffing and resources were stretched were more likely to report a patient had received the wrong medication or dosage.

Based on findings from a 2005 survey of 19,000 nurses, the unprecedented study found strong links between medication error and both work organization and workplace environment.

It says experience and education levels did not influence the numbers.

But overtime did, along with overload, perceived staffing shortages, inadequate resources, unsupportive co-workers, low job security and poor working relations with doctors.

The survey says nurses face a broad range of physical and emotional challenges in a demanding, often hectic, workplace.

Some findings, based on their experiences in 2004:

  • Among nurses who usually worked overtime, 22 per cent reported medication error, compared with 14 per cent of those who did not work overtime.
  • Among registered nurses whose working relations with physicians were least favourable, 27 per cent reported medication error, compared with 12 per cent among those whose working relations with physicians were most favourable.
  • Nurses with low support from co-workers were significantly more likely to report medication error than were those with more support. The study pointed out that low co-worker support might result from inadequate staffing as busy nurses may be less able or willing to help co-workers.
  • Just under a third (32 per cent) of nurses with low job security reported medication error, compared with 19 per cent with better job security.
  • About 28 per cent of those who said they were dissatisfied with their job reported medication error, compared with 18 per cent of those who were satisfied.