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RPS fears Brexit could delay decriminalisation reforms

Royal Pharmaceutical Society tells C+D that Brexit "may have repercussions on the timetable" for decriminalisation of dispensing errors

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) fears that Brexit will delay its push for the decriminalisation of dispensing errors.

The fallout from a vote for the UK to leave the European Union, and a possible cabinet reshuffle following the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, could delay the RPS's long-running battle to end automatic criminal sanctions for inadvertent mistakes by pharmacists and their staff.

“Decriminalisation of dispensing errors is still very much on our agenda for 2016,” RPS president Ash Soni told delegates at the society's annual general meeting on Wednesday (June 22) – a day before the UK voted for Brexit.

He added: “Ending automatic criminalisation has long been a key issue. But I can assure you we are doing everything possible.”

Decriminalisation "must remain high on agenda"

But RPS spokesperson Neal Patel told C+D the society has concerns that their discussions with the government would be delayed by the uncertainty and upheaval brought about by Brexit.

Mr Patel said: “It remains to be seen – the outcome of the vote may have repercussions on the timetable for government business – but we will be doing our utmost to progress this vital issue.”

“We are clear decriminalisation must remain high on the government’s agenda and are working with the Department of Health (DH) through the Rebalancing Programme Board to make sure this is so.” 

Ongoing delays

The DH told C+D in December that it expected to agree the draft change to the law this spring. However, in January the chair of the board overseeing the initiative, Ken Jarrold, told C+D that it is “unlikely” that dispensing errors will be decriminalised before the autumn.

Mr Soni said the RPS will also be pushing for full access to care records. “Professionals acting without full information is becoming increasingly untenable," he said. 

RPS president loss

His comments came a day before Mr Soni lost his position as RPS president, after two years in the role.

The society announced yesterday (June 23) that, following a vote by assembly members for 2016-17, Mr Soni “will no longer be president” after the next assembly meeting on July 19.  

How does the government plan to change the law?

Under the governmennt's proposals, a pharmacy professional or unregistered member of staff would have a defence against a criminal sanction for an inadvertent dispensing error if they meet "strict conditions".

These include showing they had acted “in the course of [their] profession”, had made a supply on the back of a prescription or patient group directive, and “promptly” informed the patient about the error once discovered.

Criminal sanctions should only apply if there is proof "beyond reasonable doubt" that the pharmacist either misused their professional skills "for an improper purpose" or shown "a deliberate disregard for patient safety".

Failing to follow the pharmacy's procedures would not constitute grounds for criminal proceedings on its own.

Source: DH consultation, February 2015


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