The government is determined to decriminalise dispensing errors as part of a shake-up of medicines and pharmacy regulation, England's chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge has said.
But MPs slammed the slow speed of progress, after Dr Ridge admitted it could take another three years to find and implement a solution.
The Department of Health (DH) would work with pharmacy bodies, regulators and patient representatives on a consultation programme to "rebalance" medicines legislation and pharmacy regulation, Dr Ridge told a meeting of the all-party pharmacy group (APPG) yesterday (January 28).
"It does not need to take three years to remove the spectre of criminality that currently hangs over pharmacists in their daily work" Kevin Barron, APPG
More on dispensing errors
A programme board, due to be launched today, is set to examine the scope of medicines legislation and pharmacy regulation and how the two work together. It will be chaired by Ken Jarrold, who oversaw the establishment of the General Pharmaceutical Society (GPhC) from 2007 to 2009 following a four-decade career in NHS management.
The programme could result in the GPhC taking over some powers for enforcing the Medicines Act 1968 – including section 64, which deals with dispensing errors – Dr Ridge said.
Dr Ridge said he expected the whole programme to take two to three years but that he was looking for "an opportunity to solve the dispensing error problem earlier".
"If we can do it sooner rather than later then we will… but it does need to fit into an overall process," he added.
But two to three years is just too long, said APPG co-vice chair Baroness Cumberlege.
Fellow APPG co-vice chair Oliver Colevile MP told the meeting he would table a parliamentary question on the speed of progress.
And following the meeting, APPG chair Kevin Baron MP said that, while the group welcomed the proposals, they had "heard it all before".
"Those with responsibility for ushering in change must now move forward with a real sense of urgency. It does not need to take three years to remove the spectre of criminality that currently hangs over pharmacists in their daily work," he said.
"A move to the system in which professional regulation takes the lead in dealing with genuine dispensing errors would have clear benefits in terms of learning and training, and it would improve patient safety," he added.
Pharmacy bodies renewed calls for the "long overdue" decriminalisation of dispensing errors and the creation of an "open culture" in which pharmacists felt comfortable reporting their mistakes, in a joint statement released ahead of the meeting yesterday.
The DH's "rebalancing" programme on medicines legislation and pharmacy regulation will be linked to the MHRA's review on penalties and sanctions across all areas of responsibility, which it initiated in October 2012.