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Pharmacy bodies renew calls to decriminalise dispensing errors

Practice Pharmacy bodies have renewed calls for the "long overdue" decriminalisation of dispensing errors, ahead of a meeting between MPs and England's chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge this afternoon

Pharmacy bodies have renewed calls for the "long overdue" decriminalisation of dispensing errors, ahead of a meeting between MPs and England's chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge this afternoon (January 28).

Pharmacy Voice, PSNC and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) called on the UK's chief pharmaceutical officers to create an "open culture" in which pharmacists felt comfortable reporting their mistakes, in a joint statement issued today.

"Pharmacy wants genuine dispensing errors to be dealt with via its regulator. Only those of a serious magnitude, when there is evidence of willfully or grossly negligent behavior, should be subject to a legal process," they said.

Dispensing mistakes should be treated as a "learning opportunity" to improve pharmacy practice, the organisations said.

This required an "open culture" in which "areas of concern or risk can be identified before mistakes are made and steps taken to reduce the potential for patient harm", they said.

"We do not believe that the current balance between regulation and legislation promotes such an open culture and so we were delighted to see the chief pharmaceutical officers express renewed interest in this area last year. We hope that the long overdue decriminalisation of dispensing errors will form a key focus of their work," they added.

The comments came ahead of an all-party pharmacy group (APPG) meeting this afternoon at which Dr Ridge will discuss the decriminalisation of dispensing errors with representatives from the MHRA, the General Pharmaceutical Council and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The APPG called for the meeting in November following a statement from the UK chief pharmaceutical officers in October, when they said they would explore the "balance of medicines legislation".

A C+D poll earlier this month suggested more than a third of pharmacists do not report colleagues' dispensing errors for fear of damaging working relationships.

It is a criminal offence for a pharmacist or technician to dispense the wrong product to a patient, even in error. In 2009, locum Elizabeth Lee was convicted for handing over the wrong drug, even though the error was found not to be responsible for the patient's death.

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