Unofficial Guide to Prescribing

The Unofficial Guide to


Co-Editors: Zeshan Qureshi and Simon Maxwell

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“Prescribing errors cost the NHS millions of pounds and many lives each year. The art of prescribing is now a vital skill for all Doctors to possess. If I am completely honest, as a Medical Student I have found the topic of prescribing a little dry and difficult to learn at the best of times. However, this textbook has filled a much needed niche in the market through providing an interesting approach to the subject. The opening chapter provides a concise summary of the basics of pharmacology and prescribing and saved me hours of trekking through various textbooks! Then the book adopts a more clinical approach to build the foundations needed for real life emergency situations. A must have for all students!”

Emily Crawley image

Emily Crawley
Medical student

“Prescribing is a skill that is under-taught and not adequately covered in the medical curriculum. Medical students often get a few lectures and have to take a prescribing exam for the final year as this is a core skill required to graduate. This is not surprising considering the number of prescribing errors that have and still occur.

Well executed and very methodical book. As with other books in the series, it presents knowledge to mimic learning on the job which is the ideal way for a hands-on and practical job such as hospital medicine. The cases are presented as if you are on-call (patients are admitted into hospital and channelled to wards in this way) and there is a marvellous amount of detail on the patients in the scenario.”

Onyinye Akpenyi

Onyinye Akpenyi
Medical Student

“A stepwise progression from initial assessment to investigations and management makes it easy to understand the logic behind drug prescriptions. Detailed explanations on assessment and management are presented in simple language, one has the feeling of being advised or taught by a senior colleague or fried and this encourages a more active style of learning.

Sample drug charts are given and filled in at the end of each case which ties things together quite nicely.”


Onyinye Akpenyi

Onyinye Akpenyi
Medical Student

The Unofficial Guide to Prescribing lays out the practical steps of how to assess, investigate and manage a patient, with a focus on what to prescribe and how to prescribe it. Its aim is to empower newly graduated junior doctors to excel at dealing with emergencies and handling complex prescribing scenarios.

Prescribing errors cost healthcare systems millions annually, so early training in prescribing has become an urgent priority of medical education and now forms an essential part of teaching and assessment. The Unofficial Guide to Prescribing is a new book designed to address this requirement. It is written by junior doctors still close to the transition from theory to practice, overseen by a review panel of senior clinicians to ensure accuracy, and designed to help medical students practise and learn as much as possible about prescribing, in actual clinical scenarios, before they have to do it for real.

Prescribing is a major challenge for students because of its volume and complexity, and the need to gather experience.

It is the thing that new graduates fear the most and feel least prepared for, and it’s the commonest thing new graduates do which directly affects patient safety and can produce clinical errors.

Key Features

Each scenario is broken down into the following:

The scenario as it might present itself to you within hospital practice
Initial ABCDE assessment of the patient, divided into three sections: (a) how you will assess each paramater: ‘airway’, ‘breathing’, ‘circulation’, ‘disability’, ‘exposure’; (b) what the assessment findings are in the particular scenario; (c) what immediate management is required
Initial investigations–what tests are needed to allow you to ascertain: (a) the diagnosis; (b) the severity of the condition; (c) any complications that have arisen. The results of any suggested tests are given
Initial management–what needs to be done to stabilize the patient, and to start treating the initial diagnosis
Reassessment–whether the treatment has been effective, or whether there is a need to escalate treatment or consider an alternative diagnosis
Definitive treatment–what needs to be done to ensure this patient is optimally managed. Other treatments outstanding, who else might need to be involved
Zeshan Qureshi
Zeshan Qureshi
BM BSc(Hons) MSc
Paediatrics trainee at Great Ormond Street, and the Institute of Child Health

The Unofficial Guide to Prescribing is designed to take the theoretical knowledge of medical school and apply it to real life practical situations.When a 55-year-old man with a new diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma is confused with a sodium of 118, what do you do?

When a 17-yearold girl is unresponsive with a blood sugar of 1.8, what do you do?

Much like its OSCE companion, this book will take you through the practical steps of how you assess, investigate and manage each individual patient, with a focus on prescribing, specifically what you prescribe, and how you prescribe it; with clear examples of generic drug charts showing you how the prescriptions would look in real life.

Station 8.2: Acute Pancreatitis

You are the surgical junior doctor in the emergency department. A 42-year-old obese female with a background of gallstones presents with severe epigastric pain radiating to the back. She has vomited on multiple occasions and feels that she is becoming more breathless. Please assess her and commence appropriate management.

Patient Details

Name: Jane Smith
DOB: 05/03/72
Hospital Number: J35789
Weight: 85kg
Height: 1.6m
Consultant: Mr King
Hospital Ward: BFH Surgical
Current Medications: None
Allergies: No known drug allergies
Admission Date: 22/09/14

Initial Assessment


Assess the patency of her airway. Does she have any vomitus obstructing her airway?
‘The airway is secure and patent, as she is responding to questions.’
Continue to monitor the airway, but no intervention currently required.


Assess the rate and depth of respiration. Is she using her accessory muscles for respiration? Check oxygen saturations. Auscultate her chest: does she have any degree of lung impairment, crackles or wheeze?
‘RR 28/min, oxygen saturations are 92% pre-oxygen therapy. She is using her accessory muscles of respiration. She has reduced air entry and crackles are heard throughout both lung fields bilaterally with some wheeze. She is complaining that she cannot catch her breath.’
This lady is tachypnoeic and unable to maintain normal saturations. She requires highflow oxygen on a non-rebreather mask, and optimization of pain control. Could consider NSAIDs or other opiates such as pethidine or tramadol, but trial morphine if pain is severe: a PCA may be required to control the pain.


Assess her CRT, pulse and blood pressure. Check her mucous membranes and assess her hydration status by looking at her tongue and skin turgor.
‘HR 115 bpm, BP 90/60 mmHg, and CRT 3 seconds peripherally. Her hands are moist and cool with a thready pulse. Her mucous membranes are dry. Her eyes appear sunken. Her heart sounds are normal with no murmurs.’
This lady is intravascularly depleted. She needs aggressive fluid resuscitation. Two large bore IV cannulae (14 or 16 G) should be inserted (while simultaneously taking bloods) and a fluid challenge should be given (e.g. over 15 minutes). A urinary catheter should be inserted to assess end-organ perfusion.

Differential diagnosis of epigastric pain

  • Inferior MI
  • Peptic ulcer disease
  • Perforated peptic ulcer
  • Symptomatic gallstones
  • Dissecting aortic aneurysm
  • Small bowel obstruction
  • Oesophagitis

Causes of acute pancreatitis

  • Gallstones (40%)
  • Alcohol (40%)
  • Idiopathic (10%)
  • ERCP
  • Hyperlipidaemia
  • Viral (mumps, coxsackie)
  • Drugs (azathioprine, tamoxifen, corticosteroids, valproate, ASA)
  • Autoimmune (vasculitides)

Complications of pancreatitis

  • Early: shock, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), SIRS, hypocalcaemia, renal failure, hyperglycaemia, retroperitoneal haemorrhage
  • Late: pseudocyst formation, pancreatic abscess formation, necrotizing pancreatitis, recurrent pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer

Management Summary: Acute pancreatitis

  • Aggressive resuscitation
  • Assessment of disease severity
  • Early ITU involvement in severe pancreatitis
  • Imaging to identify aetiology and severity
  • Early nutritional support
  • Avoid antibiotics unless disease identified
  • Treatment in specific aetiology (i.e. ERCP)

Administration and Prescription Charts

The Unofficial Guide to Prescribing - Chart One


High-flow oxygen: 15 L/min OXYGEN via NON-REBREATHER MASK Analgesia, e.g. MORPHINE SULFATE 5 to 10 mg IV (titrate to response)
CYCLIZINE 50 mg IV STAT (to reduce morphine-related vomiting) Fluid bolus, e.g. 0.9% SODIUM CHLORIDE 500 mL IV (over 15 min)

The Unofficial Guide to Prescribing - Chart Two image


Proton pump inhibitor, e.g. ESOMEPRAZOLE 40 mg IV (over 10–30 mins) OD
Thromboprophylaxis, e.g. DALTEPARIN 5000 units OD SC and TED STOCKINGS TOP CONT
Regular analgesia, e.g. MORPHINE SULFATE 5 mg 4 HOURLY (titrate to response) IV (with antiemetic, e.g. CYCLIZINE 50 mg IV TDS)

The Unofficial Guide to Prescribing - Intravenous Fluid Prescription Chart image


Further fluids, e.g. 0.9% SODIUM CHLORIDE 1 L with 20 mmol KCL 500 mL/h
OXYGEN, e.g. 8 L/min via MASK
Initial oxygen prescription

Unofficial Guide to Prescribing

Preview The Unofficial Guide to Prescribing

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