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Patient records access could increase litigation risk, warns lawyer

Practice Pharmacy teams will have to review their risk-management procedures once access is granted to avoid compensation claims, says Noel Wardle, partner at Charles Russell

Pharmacists will have to be more vigilant against prescribing errors if they gain access to patient records, as the move could leave them more vulnerable to litigation, a leading lawyer has warned.

Although access to the patient's medical history was "exciting" for the sector, it would also require pharmacy teams to review their risk-management procedures, Noel Wardle, partner at Charles Russell, said at the legal firm's conference yesterday (March 27).

Failing to check a dramatic change in a regular prescription, for example, could leave pharmacists open to compensation claims, he explained.

Pharmacists must have proper procedures in place to make sure risk is managed in the pharmacy, says lawyer Noel Wardle

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Mr Wardle cited the example of a £10 million claim made against a Lloydspharmacy pharmacist in 2006, who failed to contact the prescriber when a regular patient's dose of dexamethasone increased from 0.5mg to 4mg.

The judge ruled in favour of the patient, who had developed the symptoms of Cushing's syndrome, because she was a regular customer at the pharmacy and the pharmacist should have noticed the "dramatic increase", Mr Wardle said.

He warned that pharmacists would have to show the same diligence for first-time customers if they had access to their medical information.

"We're going to have to be careful about how we deal with access to patient records and mindful of this kind of possibility," Mr Wardle stressed. "[Pharmacists] must have proper procedures in place to make sure that risk is managed in the pharmacy and that staff know what they're doing and make the necessary checks."

In January, the government named pharmacist access to patient records as a priority. Last month, London pharmacist Jignesh Patel gained access to patient records in his area, in what he believed was a first for the sector.

Will you be reviewing your risk-management procedures?
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

Shaun Hockey, Community pharmacist

I work with locum pharmacists and locum GPs. Professional indemnity insurance for full time locum pharmacists £150-200, Indemnity insurance for full time locum GPs £5-6000! An indication of the relative levels of responsibility at present? I'm 100% behind an extended role for pharmacists and full access to patient records but we must go forward with open eyes.

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

Locum GPs can gross up to £200k. Locum Pharmacists currently £30/35k

Susan M Shepherd, Community pharmacist

Access to patient records will most definitely lead to increased litigation. Individual professional indemnity insurance will be essential for all practising pharmacists. It will be insufficient to rely upon a contractor's insurance, whether you are a locum or employee.

This level of responsibility cannot be achieved at the current laughable £10 per hour offered by some companies to locums. Also the GPhC will have to ensure that EU pharmacists coming over here understand the risks/responsibilities involved, before permitting them to practice.

H Sun, Community pharmacist

Look at the numbers, a £10 million claim is made against a dispensed prescription for which pharmacists are paid less the £1!
The size of the claim reflects how important a job we do, while the remuneration shows how much we are valued.

You won't see this in any other proffesion.

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

Access to patient records will most certainly increase the responsibility and litigation risk for Pharmacy.

Will this be recognised with a commensurate increase in salary?
Will staffing leveIs be increased to allow adequate time to check the records?

If not, then is it really such a good idea from the perspective of an individual employee Pharmacist?

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