There is still a “significant risk” that pharmacists who commit an inadvertent dispensing error will be investigated for a crime and have to face a jury, despite the legal defence coming into force in April, Noel Wardle, partner at Charles Russell Speechlys LLP, has warned.
The “complex” statutory defence means “pharmacists will have to jump over at least four, if not more, hurdles in order to fall within the defence”, Mr Wardle told C+D at the law firm’s annual conference in London last week (March 15).
At the conference, pharmacy lawyers gave examples of some of the facts pharmacists will have to prove if they want to use the new legal defence, including demonstrating “the product was sold or supplied in pursuance of a prescription or directions given by a relevant prescriber or patient group direction”, or in the case of emergency supplies, “a prescription-only medicine was sold or supplied in circumstances where there was an immediate need for it”.
“It will be for the jury to decide whether the pharmacist’s conduct falls within each part of the statutory defence,” Mr Wardle said in response. “This is definitely not the time for pharmacists to drop their guard in relation to practice.”
Manslaughter conviction “threat remains”
In February, health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt launched a “rapid policy review into the issues pertaining to gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare” following the case of Dr Bawa-Garba, who was found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence, in relation to the death of a six-year-old boy.
While “no pharmacist has ever been convicted of manslaughter”, Mr Wardle stressed, the “threat remains” unless the Department of Health and Social Care “does something following Mr Hunt’s review”.
Watch the video below to find out why Mr Wardle believes it will be a while before healthcare professionals see the decriminalisation of manslaughter errors.