Mr Brine was responding to a written question from all-party pharmacy group chair Kevin Barron on the introduction of the defence, which became law last week (April 16).
Mr Barron – who is also Labour MP for Rother Valley – asked the pharmacy minister “what assessment he has made” of the “risk to pharmacists being prosecuted as a result of an inadvertent dispensing error”, following the defence coming into force.
In his response, Mr Brine said that the “fundamental premise” of the dispensing error defence is that it “will reduce the risk of prosecution”, and will “[lead] to an increase in the number of reported errors”.
An impact assessment published by the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) in November 2017 – when the defence was laid before parliament – said that “businesses” would benefit from an estimated “£565,770” in cost savings over a 10-year period, due to the “reduced risk of prosecution”, Mr Brine pointed out.
According to the DH, the defence could result in further savings, as “actual insurance premium decreases could come from a reduction in dispensing errors made over time”.
It also suggested that errors in dispensing could be reduced by 30% within four years, as a result of “increased opportunities for learning”. This will contribute to “additional cost savings for pharmacies”, including saving staff time spent handling complaints and reassuring patients when an error occurs, and the cost of replacing medicines dispensed in error.
“Very few prosecutions to date”
Mr Brine maintained that there have been “very few prosecutions in regard to preparation and dispensing errors made by pharmacists to date”.
According to the impact assessment, there have been just three prosecutions by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency since 2003, “and a similarly very low number by the Crown Prosecution Service and the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland”, Mr Brine said in his response.
The DH expects the number of prosecutions to “reduce even further”, although “no specific figure was given” in the impact assessment, Mr Brine said.
However, he stressed that “in the most serious cases”, prosecution would still go ahead under general law, “for example, gross negligence manslaughter”, if the error led to the death of a patient.
A C+D poll revealed that just 25% of pharmacists are more likely to report dispensing errors now the long-awaited legal defence has come into force.
Read C+D’s analysis to find out why not everyone is convinced by the new defence.