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Blog: How soon is now?


21 Apr 2017

The subject of dispensing errors is one that strikes fear into the heart of any right-thinking pharmacist. And you’d be forgiven for feeling this way. Mixing up a pack of medication – many of which look almost identical – could harm or even kill a patient. But pharmacists do their utmost to ensure patient safety, so it seems wrong that errors can become a criminal issue.

There are hopes that changes may be afoot, though. As The Pharmacist’s reporter Alice Harrold found when she investigated the matter for our Summer issue’s cover feature, everyone from the Department of Health (DH) to the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) seems to agree that decriminalisation is the best option. But, change has still not materialised two years on from when the idea was mooted.

The worry that you pharmacists must go through in the fear of slipping up makes it incredible to me – a non-pharmacist – that you’ve got the strength to keep doing what you do. And it makes it inexcusable that, despite assurances from the DH that reform is coming ‘at the earliest opportunity’, a change to the Medicines Act looks no closer now than it was two years ago.

Vague promises that the law will change weren’t enough to shield pharmacist Martin White from a two-year suspended sentence last year for mistakenly dispensing propranolol instead of prednisolone. And they’re not enough for you, our readers, when – according to many pharmacists I’ve spoken to – the thought of inadvertently making an error is enough to keep you awake at night.

Pharmacists are human, too, and mistakes do happen. Surely for the purposes of patient safety, it needs to be as easy as possible for you to admit to errors when you inevitably make them. But is it realistic to expect this when doing so could amount to a criminal record? I’m not so sure.

That’s why it’s high time the Government moved from words to actions on decriminalisation. How many more Martin Whites will it take for those in power to listen?


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