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Will Martin White's case affect DH's dispensing error plans?

Department of Health: Plans to announce proposed changes to the law in "due course"

The Department of Health (DH) will not confirm to C+D whether it will consider the case of Martin White as part of its plans to decriminalise dispensing errors.

Dispensing errors returned to the headlines last month, when Northern Irish pharmacist Martin White received a suspended prison sentence for dispensing propranolol instead of prednisolone in the hours leading up to a patient's death in 2014.

C+D asked the DH last week if Mr White’s sentencing would be discussed at the next meeting of the board charged with creating a legal defence from inadvertent dispensing errors for pharmacy professionals (see below).

But the DH did not address this issue, or C+D’s request for a rough timescale of when this legal defence will come into force.

Instead, it responded: “We have consulted on our proposals to put in place a defence to the criminal sanction for inadvertent dispensing errors.”

“The consultation received good support from patients, carers, healthcare professionals and from representative organisations and bodies, and we will announce proposed changes to the law in due course.”

MP campaigns to change the law

All-party pharmacy group vice chair Oliver Colvile raised the issue of dispensing errors at a parliamentary debate last week (January 11).

“At the moment, GPs can get a slap on the wrist or be struck off, whereas pharmacists who fail to give prescriptions properly can face criminal charges,” Mr Colvile told MPs.

“I was led to understand by the minister that the matter might have been sorted out before Christmas. Here we are, at the beginning of the year, and we still have not dealt with it,” he added.

“I must warn [David Mowat] that I have tabled a parliamentary question about it.”

Watch Mr Colville discuss his campaign to get dispensing errors decriminalised, and what he made of Jeremy Hunt’s comments on pharmacy “clusters”, below. 


How does the government plan to change the law?

A pharmacy professional or unregistered member of staff should have a defence against a criminal sanction for an inadvertent dispensing error if they meet "strict conditions". These include showing they 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 directive, 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". Failing to follow the pharmacy's procedures would not constitute grounds for criminal proceedings on its own.

How should the sector tackle dispensing errors?

Valentine Trodd, Community pharmacist

Will Martin White's case affect DH's dispensing error plans?

I think you've answered your own question here -  "the DH did not address this issue, or C+D’s request for a rough timescale of when this legal defence will come into force."

So, obviously it doesn't make a blind bit of difference to them. When did the DH ever care about anything to do with pharmacy anyway? Now if it was the doctors kicking off it would be a different matter...

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