The sector has welcomed legislation providing pharmacists with a legal defence for inadvertent dispensing errors but believes there is still ‘work to do’.

The new legislation, which comes into effect today, provides a new criminal defence for inadvertent dispensing errors made by registered pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in registered pharmacies in the UK.

Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) president Ash Soni said: ‘This is excellent news for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and for patient safety.

‘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.’

‘Huge step forward’

Echoing Mr Soni’s comments, west midlands community pharmacist in David Gallier-Harris said that the move is ‘a huge step forward’

He continued: ‘I’m immensely proud to have paid a small part in delivering [this]. As a practicing community pharmacist, I hope my peers will be reassured by the new defence and that it leads to greater reporting of errors and increases in patient safety, as we all learn from each other.’

Fear of conviction

Head of pharmacy at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys LLP Noel Wardle argued that with the remaining threat of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) investigating errors, even if no criminal charges are brought, pharmacists might not be more willing to report errors.

However, the GPhC said that dispensing errors do not automatically qualify as a fitness-to-practise issue.

GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin said: ‘We have advocated for this change in the law for a number of years and are delighted that it is now in effect.

‘This 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.’

‘No parity’

Emma Davies, an advanced pharmacist practitioner in pain management in Wales, said that, as the legislation is only applicable in community pharmacies, there is ‘no parity within the profession’.

She added: ‘The main concern I have is that the change hasn’t decriminalised dispensing errors as we would have hoped.

‘Instead, it provides a defence in some circumstances. Consequently, it doesn’t provide the parity with other professions pharmacists expect to have nor does it protect us necessarily from litigation when errors are made and reported.

‘It’s an improvement and we should be grateful for the hard work of Steve Brine, the RPS, the Pharmaceutical Defence Association (PDA), the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) and others who have lobbied for this, however, there is still work to be done.’

According to the GPhC, a consultation on introducing the same defences in settings other than registered pharmacies will begin shortly.