In 2013, the Department of Health brought together a board of pharmacists, regulators and patient representatives, and tasked it "rebalancing" medicines legislation and pharmacy regulation.
The board is probably best known for its ongoing work to create a legal defence from criminal prosecution for pharmacists and pharmacy staff who make an inadvertent dispensing error. But it hit the headlines earlier this month due to pharmacists' concerns about another aspect of its remit: to "address" legislation on pharmacy supervision.
How did you get involved with the board?
I became involved because there was a desire from the board to have some grassroots representation. I work for Asda as a store-based pharmacist. At the time the board was looking for representation, I was a member of Asda's focus group, which meets quarterly to feedback ideas from stores to head office.
Our then superintendent pharmacist John Evans asked for expressions of interest, and it went from there. As a real-world, patient-facing pharmacist at the 'coalface' – or however you wish to describe it – the fears and issues around dispensing errors are very real to me. It was a case of: here’s an opportunity to say what I think. I had no choice but to take it.
Do you think real progress is being made towards decriminalisation?
Yes, most definitely! One thing I’ve taken from the whole process is the sheer number of hoops and obstacles involved in making a change to the law. It’s been a long, long process. Two general elections, devolved administration elections, a referendum – not to mention parliamentary recesses – have dragged things out.
It’s fair to say that there is a collective sigh at each delay, but equally a collective will to see things through. There is a lot of work and effort being put in to drive the work forward. The outcome of making the issue of an inadvertent dispensing error a professional matter – rather than a criminal one – is too important; for pharmacists, but also patients.
What have you learned?
The thing I’ve taken from the board regarding dispensing errors is that the board understands the fears of pharmacists, and has put in place the required changes to allay them. It’s been a drawn-out process, but we’re getting there.
How involved are pharmacists in making the changes?
There is very open and reasoned debate on the board. The chair, Ken Jarrold, is very good at allowing everybody the opportunity to speak and express their views.
I have to say that at times I’ve been concerned at directions of travel and there has been lively debate. I’ve been fortunate enough to see challenging arguments from representatives such as the Royal Pharmaceutical Society – indeed seeing this first-hand was the driving factor in my rejoining the society three years ago.
I feel I’ve also had a direct impact on the board’s work. I’m definitely not there just to say 'yes' to everything.
I’ve discussed elements of the board’s work with my peers. I feel it’s important to get their views on the topics – be it dispensing error legislation, responsible pharmacist regulations or indeed proposals around supervision. I’m there on the board to represent the views of many, not just myself. I’ve been happy to speak to anyone who’s interested and take their views into account in my representations.
Where do we go from here?
Well, we keep going. Amending the dispensing error legislation is a big, big deal, but is nearly there. Work around supervising and responsible pharmacist regulations puts the relationship on a more professional-based footing (as opposed to a restricted legal one).
Supervision is still to be decided, so there's still lots to do.