New funding requirements that prevent pharmacies from anonymously reporting patient safety incidents could put them at risk of prosecution, pharmacy leaders have warned.
As part of the 2014-15 funding settlement announced on Monday, pharmacists will have to include the name of the pharmacy when submitting an error report to the National Reporting and Learning Service (NRLS). This would make it easier to learn from the errors and help NHS England identify pharmacies that reported "significantly below expected levels", PSNC said.
It is still a criminal offence for a pharmacist to make a dispensing error and Pharmacy Voice chief executive Rob Darracott said the threat of criminal sanctions was a "barrier" to reporting safety incidents.
"People will think twice about reporting to a centralised system," he told C+D. "Hopefully we will get some answers about that."
Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Ash Soni said he also had "significant concerns" about the "risk of self-criminalisation". Although increasing patient safety was a "really good thing", it seemed "a bit early" to expect pharmacists to report incidents without anonymity, he told C+D.
Community Pharmacy West Yorkshire chief executive Robbie Turner told C+D that the ongoing campaign to decriminalise dispensing errors, which received backing from parliamentary lawyers in July, needed to go "hand-in-hand" with encouraging pharmacists to report errors.
"It will be a challenge to protect contractors and people who work in pharmacies from future prosecutions while also enabling them to continue to improve the service they offer patients," he said.
Mike Hewitson, owner of Beaminster Pharmacy in Dorset,said healthcare professionals had a "duty to be more open and honest" about dispensing mistakes so that they could learn from them.
A change to the rules
The new funding arrangements mean pharmacists will only be expected to report safety incidents that did - or could - have led to patient harm, rather than potential errors that were detected during a pharmacy's checking procedures.
PSNC said it had been "robust" in ensuring the requirements were "manageable" for pharmacies. The negotiator had persuaded NHS England that minimum reporting targets would "not be feasible" for most contractors and risked over-estimating the number of errors taking place, it said.
In July, NHS England accused the sector of "substantially" under-reporting errors and pointed out that only 7,919 medication incidents were reported by community pharmacies in England and Wales in 2012, despite an estimated 12.7 million serious incidents having occurred.