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DH: 'Difficulties' before dispensing errors decriminalised

There are “likely” to be more “difficulties to overcome” before dispensing errors are decriminalised, according to the board overseeing the initiative.

In a note produced after the most recent meeting by the Department of Health's board to “rebalance medicines legislation”, chair Ken Jarrold said he was “pleased with the report of progress” on creating a legal defence from criminal prosecution for inadvertent dispensing errors by pharmacists and their staff.

But Mr Jarrold warned that “there are still likely to be difficulties to overcome”.

“I am looking forward to more tangible outputs soon,” he added.

In the note, made a month after the October meeting, and seen by C+D this week, the board said: “The process to gain final clearance of the dispensing error proposals for pharmacy professionals working in the community sector continue[s] to move forward.”

The planned change to the law has been continually delayed since it was first announced almost two years ago, but the board said it "still expects" that the change will "be laid in the UK and Scottish parliaments soon”.

The government is also preparing a public consultation on applying the same defence to hospital pharmacists, it added.

Dispensing errors returned to the headlines last month when Northern Irish pharmacist Martin White received a suspended prison sentence for dispensing propranolol instead of prednisolone in the hours leading up to a patient's death in 2014.

How does the government plan to change the law?

​A pharmacy professional or unregistered member of staff should 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 showed "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

How should the sector tackle dispensing errors?

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