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Long-awaited dispensing error defence finally laid before parliament

A legal defence from criminal sanctions for pharmacists and staff who make an inadvertent dispensing error has been been laid before parliament today (November 14).

The Pharmacy (Preparation and Dispensing Errors – Registered Pharmacies) Order 2018 includes new defences relating to preparation and dispensing of medicines by registered pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and “persons supervised by them”, at “retail pharmacy premises”.

According to the order, the specific amendments to the Medicines Act 1968 relating to dispensing errors will “come into force on such days as the Privy Council may by order appoint”.

C+D has asked the Department of Health for clarification on this time frame.

The latest news about the error defence comes almost a year after Northern Irish pharmacist Martin White was handed a four-month suspended prison sentence for a dispensing error.

Since then, C+D clinical editor Kristoffer Stewart and blogger Xrayser have both called for inadvertent errors to be decriminalised, while C+D editor James Waldron wrote to the head of the pharmacy regulation “rebalancing” board to ask why the amendments to the law have been continually delayed.

The DH have since told C+D that it expects a debate to be scheduled between now and Christmas, and subject to parliamentary approval, the order will come into force early next year.

How does the government plan to change the law on dispensing errors?

A pharmacy professional or unregistered member of staff should have a defence against a criminal sanction for an inadvertent dispensing error if they meet a set of conditions. These include showing they had acted "in the course of [their] profession", that they had sold or supplied a medicine on the back of a prescription or patient group directive, and had “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". The Department of Health stressed in 2015 that under this change to the law, failing to follow the pharmacy's procedures would not constitute grounds for criminal proceedings on its own.


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