Legislation providing pharmacists with a legal defence for inadvertent dispensing errors by community pharmacists passed through the House of Lords yesterday (6 December).

The Department of Health (DH) told The Pharmacist that the legislation is likely to come into effect early next year.

The order marks a milestone, ‘addressing barriers to providing a safer, higher-quality service’, according to peer Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen.

Highly regulated profession

The changes will provide a new legal defence for inadvertent dispensing errors, ‘in defined circumstances, to pharmacy professionals making genuine...errors’ and create ‘a much more open and transparent culture’, said Baroness Chilsolm as she put forward the motion in the House of Lords.

The legislation was approved by MPs in the House of Commons on Monday (4 December).

When putting forward the motion, pharmacy minister Steve Brine said that ‘pharmacy professionals are highly regulated individuals — in relation to dispensing errors, more so than any other healthcare professionals’.

He said: ‘They are subject to triple jeopardy in the event that they commit a dispensing error.

‘They face prosecution for strict liability offences under sections 63 and 64 of the Medicines Act 1968, prosecution for offences under general criminal law and sanctions under professional regulation requirements’.

Uncomfortable working conditions

Working under the threat on dispensing errors creates an uncomfortable working environment, which can contribute to mental health issues.

During the House of Commons debate, Julie Cooper, shadow health minister for health, said that ‘the right to legal defence against prosecution in cases related to an inadvertent error will remove some of the fear burden and lead to a greater willingness to admit errors’.

An average community pharmacy dispenses between 300 and 500 prescriptions a day.

Ms Cooper said: It’s important to consider that that volume of work is only one part of the role performed by community pharmacists.

‘They are an integral part of the primary care team and make a huge contribution, including giving advice on a range of health and wellbeing issues, providing support for public health initiatives.

‘In that context, genuine errors will happen occasionally.’

Good news

Ash Soni, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), welcomed the news.

He said: ‘We have campaigned tirelessly, over a number of years to address the historical imbalance between professional regulation and criminal law and to keep this in front of policymakers.

‘Public safety is of paramount importance to the profession and it is in everyone’s best interests that this barrier to a safer, high-quality service has been removed.’

Not enough?

However, some peers think that the legislation does not go far enough.

During the debate in the House of Lords, Baroness Thornton highlighted that ‘even after the implementation of the order, pharmacists won’t be on a level playing field with other healthcare professionals’.

Lord Clement-Jones, a House of Lords MP said that pharmacy ‘is the unsung hero of the health service and we should be making much greater use of it’.

He said: ‘I hope that the Government will start to grasp much more effectively the opportunity to make the best use of the real and valuable resource that is represented by community pharmacy.’

What do you think? Does the rebalancing legislation go far enough to protect pharmacists? Tweet us your views @Pharmacist_News or email our editor at [email protected]