Having access to the correct antidotes could mean the difference between life and death for poisoned patients, but researchers have found a “substantial variation” in the stocks of essential treatments in hospitals across Britain.
A number of hospitals do not stock all of the antidotes health experts recommend should be available for immediate use for emergency cases.
Researchers at the National Poisons Information Service in Newcastle found that commonly used antidotes were available at 90% of hospitals but ones which were used less frequently were not as readily available.
Pharmacists at 196 hospitals which provide emergency care responded to the survey sent out by researchers in July 2010.
Researchers said that the availability of antidotes to treat people who had been poisoned with cyanide was “inadequate” after they found that nine hospitals held no treatment whatsoever.
And 15% did not stock dicobalt edetate - the recommended drug for cyanide poisoning, according to the research, which was published in the Emergency Medicine Journal.
Excluding the drugs for cyanide poisoning, only 100 of the 196 hospitals stocked all of the other antidotes recommended for immediate use.
A number of hospitals did not have easy access to drugs which should be available for use within one hour.
Just under half had one hour availability of the antihistamine cyproheptadine and viper venom antiserum.
Researchers said that 95 hospitals across Britain were expected to hold pralidoxime - which is used to treat poisoning of organic phosphorus pesticides - which they can distribute to adjourning hospitals in the event of a poisoning. But just 33% of hospitals said they were holding the antidote.
The authors concluded: “This study indicates that there is substantial variation in the stocking of essential antidotes in the UK.
“While antidotes that are used commonly are widely available, those needed to treat less commonly encountered poisonings are often not stocked.
“Despite the development of the antidote guidelines, there has been little improvement in antidote stocking provisions by acute hospitals.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “It is of vital importance that patients have access to antidotes in an emergency, and this study shows that over 90% of hospitals that responded carry stocks of those that are most frequently used.
“NHS hospitals should make sure they have appropriate access to stocks of antidotes, and they will no doubt want to take the findings of this report into account.”