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Ministers dodge APPG's call for decriminalisation timeframe

Practice The government has reiterated its pledge to consider decriminalising dispensing errors but would not be drawn on a timeframe, after APPG vice chair Oliver Colvile (pictured) grilled the health secretary in parliament.

The government has reiterated its pledge to try to decriminalise dispensing errors ahead of completing a wider review into medicines and pharmacy regulation, after MPs grilled ministers in parliament. But the Department of Health would not commit to a timescale for when any changes would be implemented or reveal the scope of the review.

Conservative MP Oliver Colvile put a parliamentary question to health secretary Jeremy Hunt earlier this month (February 4), asking what proposals he had for an amendment to section 64 of the Medicines Act – which deals with dispensing errors – and how long it was expected to take.

The amendment would be considered as part of the MHRA's review of sanctions and penalties and linked to the work of the programme board that will review medicines legislation and pharmacy regulation, vice chair of the all party pharmacy group (APPG) Mr Colvile was told.

"The APPG will not allow this crucial issue to be put on the back burner once again" Oliver Colvile MP, APPG

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But the government had not determined a timetable for implementing the recommendations of the reviews, health minister Daniel Poulter MP said, although specific consideration would be given to "the possibility of accelerating implementation of agreed changes" relating to section 64.

Meanwhile pharmacy minister Earl Howe said details of the review of medicines legislation and pharmacy regulation would be published "in due course", in response to a question from APPG co-vice chair Baroness Cumberlege. The government was in discussions with programme board chair Ken Jarrold, he added. 

The APPG would continue to put questions to the government and "keep up the pressure in parliament" until the issue of decriminalisation was resolved, Mr Colvile said. "The APPG will not allow this crucial issue to be put on the back burner once again."

Earlier this week, pharmacy leaders warned the government would need to decriminalise dispensing errors if it wanted a more open culture within the NHS.

The APPG's questions followed the announcement by England's chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge last month that it could take up to three years for dispensing errors to be decriminalised as part of the review of medicines and pharmacy regulation.

Read the full parliamentary questions and answers here.

Is the APPG doing enough to push for decriminalisation?

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Rajive Patel, Community pharmacist

The best thing to do to avoid criminal prosecution is to avoid dispensing errors!!! Simple

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I think people are concerned that even with the best of us, dispite being careful and checking throughly - mistakes do happen. We're human after all!

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