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No decriminalisation of dispensing errors before spring 2016

The programme board is "content" with the level of responses to its decriminalisation consultation

A legal defence for inadvertent errors will not be introduced in the government's first year in power, according to the Department of Health

Dispensing errors will not be decriminalised before next spring, the programme board set up to “rebalance” pharmacy regulation has revealed.

There will be no health bill to take forward the Department of Health’s proposals to create a legal defence for inadvertent dispensing errors during the government's first parliamentary session, which runs until spring 2016, the board said in notes from its June meeting.

The board discussed the need for its chair Ken Jarrold to assure ministers that changes to the law “should proceed" because "the profession is fully ready to embrace [error] reporting”, it said in the meeting notes published yesterday (August 11).

The board added that it is “content with the level of support" it received for a public consultation on its proposed changes to the law, which will create a defence from prosecution for pharmacy professionals and unregistered members of staff who can show they meet “strict conditions”.

It acknowledged that some respondents called for “further clarification” about terms used in the defence, including that the individual must have acted “in the course of their profession”. The board stressed that it will be important to “manage expectations” about who will produce guidance on this issue and when it will be published.

The board also referred to concerns that the defence will not protect contractors who make an inadvertent labelling error, because this is also covered by a separate offence in the Human Medicines Regulations. It said that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) – which has the power to amend this legislation – “has no plans to make further changes”.

Expanding the scope of the defence

The board originally agreed that medicines prescribed by a pharmacist, as well as those supplied under a minor ailments or emergency supply scheme, will be outside the scope of the legal defence. But the DH said in the meeting that it will give “further consideration” to whether these can be included, following feedback from consultation respondents.

The board will also consider the implications of the defence for ‘hub and spoke’ dispensing models, it added.

The board said yesterday that it has since had further discussions about the consultation responses, which will inform its report to ministers.

In February, board chair Mr Jarrold told C+D that dispensing errors were unlikely to be decriminalised before 2016.     


What do you think about the delays?

We want to hear your views, but please express them in the spirit of a constructive, professional debate. For more information about what this means, please click here to see our community principles and information


Susan M Shepherd, Community pharmacist

I am not surprised at the delay. Even so, this is not decriminalisation, simply a new defence that can be offered in court in certain circumstances by certain individuals. It will still be criminal procedings against the pharmacist concerned. I wish that our representatives and the press would stop calling it decriminalisation. It is not and never will be.

Dodo pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Exactly right, a legal defence is not decriminalisation. We have been sold down the river on this. I will never self report any dispensing errors while they remain a criminal offence. I would advise all pharmacists to do the same.

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

Funnily enough locking up pharmacists could work for the profession by culling numbers. The remaining practitioners could thenwork together(unlikely I know) to raise the pay above minimum wage. The useless PSNC could actually earn their money for a change. The only fear is that the multiples would then really ramp up the opening of pharmacy schools to cover the loss of workers. By this time no doubt to get in to pharmacy school you'll just need a valid passport and a GCSE pass in english.

See my previous comments. This Govts priorities are dictated by The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch. Since none of these have rushed to support a decriminalisation bill we shouldn't be surprised that progress is slower than tectonic plate drift

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