Our annual update on the safe management and use of controlled drugs

Published: 16 July 2021 Page last updated: 12 May 2022

This year’s update gives an overview of our findings from our regulatory work as well as prescribing data and trends for controlled drugs across England.

The data in this year’s report relates to the calendar year 2020. However, given the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic we have also included relevant information for the first half of 2021.

Over the last 18 months, people working in health and social care have shown great agility when responding to the challenges and risks presented by the pandemic. As well as sharing trends and data, this year’s report reflects the opportunity now facing the whole system to consider and learn from the innovations and challenges seen when responding to COVID-19.

To support this, the Safer Management of Controlled Drugs annual update makes four recommendations. These are designed to help people working with controlled drugs to further strengthen the arrangements to manage and use them safely.

This year they focus on:

  • The need to include controlled drugs governance as part of COVID-19 recovery plans, particularly around any changes that were necessary while responding to the pandemic.
  • Enabling all health and care staff to take part in activities that support reflection and learning – with a focus on sharing their experience and innovation to drive improvement.
  • People leading and working in local health and care systems working together to reduce risks associated with controlled drugs. For example, understanding and mitigating risk when people move between services.
  • The need for everyone working in all health and social care settings to make sure people’s care meets their individual needs safely when it involves using controlled drugs.

The report highlights our activity as part of our responsibilities under the Controlled Drugs (Supervision of Management and Use) Regulations 2013, and allows us to share the key issues raised by all controlled drugs accountable officers (CDAOs) during the year and examples of the issues raised and followed up through the controlled drug local intelligence networks. It also includes key themes and findings from our own inspections of health and adult social care services.

As in previous years, we provide data on overall prescribing trends for controlled drugs. These were broadly similar to 2019, however there have been understandable shifts in methods of prescribing with an increase in video and telephone consultations during the pandemic.