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a scales of justice imageApril 16 2018

The amendment to the law which will give a defence to the criminal charge of making a dispensing error has come into effect.

Community pharmacists and pharmacy technicians may be able to rely on the defence should an error occur, but in the context of medicines being dispensed or supplied from community pharmacies only. Further legal changes are required for it to apply to hospital pharmacy and other managed settings.

The change has taken several years to achieve, and followed regular dialogue between the government, the NHS and the profession.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has published a new Quick Reference Guide on making things right when there's been a dispensing error, and the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland has also issued guidance to its members through the Pharmacy Forum NI.

RPS President Ash Soni said the legislative change was “excellent news for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and for patient safety.

“We now have a new law protecting community pharmacists from automatic prosecution should they make an honest mistake. This long-awaited change will be welcomed by the whole profession, but I recognise there is still work to do to see similar measures put in place for pharmacists outside of registered pharmacies.”

The General Pharmaceutical Council has also welcomed the legal change. GPhC Chief Executive Duncan Rudkin said it “should help bring real improvements to patient safety, by encouraging improved reporting and learning from errors by pharmacists and pharmacy technicians working in registered pharmacies.

“We know there are already a number of local and national initiatives across England, Scotland and Wales to encourage reporting and learning from errors, which are making a difference. We would encourage everyone working within pharmacy to play their part to contribute to a culture of greater openness and learning, to improve the care people receive.”

The GPhC will be considering how it can better use and share the information it receives about dispensing errors to support learning, reduce risks and improve patient outcomes.

“We recognise that the possibility of action by the regulator can also deter people from reporting errors. It is important to emphasise that single dispensing errors would not in our view constitute a fitness to practise concern, unless there were aggravating factors,” said Mr Rudkin.

In Northern Ireland, Sheelin McKeagney, Chair of the Pharmacy Forum NI, said: “Addressing the issue of criminal prosecution represents an important step in not only alleviating what has long been a source of considerable concern for colleagues but also in ensuring that the professional consequences for pharmacists, who make dispensing errors, will be much more in keeping with handling errors made by other healthcare professionals.

“As a profession we are fully focused on patient safety and the highest standards of service delivery. These changes also afford an opportunity to embed an open culture which encourages error reporting and candour. This development should encourage the profession to learn from mistakes rather than simply to fear them and thus enhance safety and practice and prevent future harm.”

A consultation is expected shortly relating to making similar legislative changes in the managed sector such as hospitals. The RPS has noted that the pharmacy minister, Steve Brine MP, “has reaffirmed his commitment to seeing this happen.”

Links:
RPS statement             
GPhC Statement          
Pharmacy Forum Northern Ireland statement              

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