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Parliament finally approves pharmacy's dispensing error defence

The legislation providing a defence for inadvertent errors is expected to come into effect next year
The legislation providing a defence for inadvertent errors is expected to come into effect next year

The long-awaited legislation to introduce a defence for inadvertent dispensing errors has been approved by parliament, and is expected to come into effect next year.

The legislation was unanimously passed by MPs during a debate in the House of Commons on Monday (December 4), and then by the House of Lords two days later.

The new defence – which was laid before parliament last month – includes showing that the pharmacist or member of staff had acted "in the course of [their] profession", that they had sold or supplied a medicine on the back of a prescription or patient group direction, and had "promptly" informed the patient about the error once discovered.

Criminal sanctions should only apply if there is proof "beyond reasonable doubt" that the pharmacist either misused their professional skills "for an improper purpose" or showed "a deliberate disregard for patient safety", according to the proposed defence.

"Fantastic news for pharmacists"

Ash Soni, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, described it as “fantastic news for pharmacists and patient safety”.

“We recognise that this has been a long journey for the profession, but I am now hopeful and excited that we can build on this important milestone, engage with wider stakeholders and see similar proposals for hospitals and other pharmacy settings,” Mr Soni said.

“Public safety is of paramount importance to the profession, and it is in everyone’s best interests that this barrier to a safer, high-quality service has been removed.”

Will you be more comfortable reporting dispensing errors when the defence comes into force?

Leon The Apothecary, Student

That's a good first step, proving "beyond reasonable doubt" is a highly significant task to be proven in a court of law, and effectively removes any genuine errors a hope from being prosecuted. 

Locum Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

It is still not decriminalization, simply a defence for when the crime has occurred. Everyone makes dispensing errors and as per this legislation we are all guilty until proven innocent. 

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