The sector has welcomed the laying of legislation that, if passed, will decriminalise inadvertent dispensing errors before Parliament yesterday (14 November).

Changes to the Medicines Act 1968, if approved by Parliament, will provide pharmacists and pharmacy technicians with a legal defence for inadvertent errors.

The Department of Health (DH) told The Pharmacist yesterday that the new legislation will come into force early next year if it goes through the Parliamentary process without challenge.

In 2015, the DH proposed a defence for pharmacists under Sections 63 and 64 of the Medicines Act 1968 to avoid criminal sanction for inadvertent dispensing errors, retaining the sanctions for errors where pharmacy staff were not ‘acting professionally’.

Long-awaited change

Pharmacy representative bodies have argued for a long time to see changes in the law.

John D’Arcy, outgoing managing director of Numark, said: ‘This has been a long time coming but is much needed to remove a significant practice burden from pharmacists and their teams created by an anachronistic legal provision.

‘The change in the law recognises that pharmacists are human and puts them on an equal footing with other healthcare professionals.’

Ian Strachan, chairman of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said: ‘We are delighted that this matter is finally with Parliament for approval, after a long drawn out process within Whitehall and the devolved administrations.

‘This is a significant step forward. The application of criminal sanctions for single, inadvertent dispensing errors is grossly disproportionate and the changes now before Parliament for approval will help nurture a culture of openness and transparency, which in turn underpins patient safety.

‘We are pleased to see that Mr Brine has been true to his word by personally backing a change.’

Culture of fear

Pharmacists agreed that the threat of prosecutions create a culture of fear and harm community pharmacy performances. But many are still waiting to see the changes come into effect.

Thorrun Govind, a locum pharmacist, said: 'This defence allows those who make honest mistakes to be considered in law and not be categorised the same as those who intentionally try to harm.

‘With increasing pressures on pharmacists, due to the cuts, this is some comfort. We don't go into this profession to harm.'

Read The Pharmacist editor Beth Kennedy’s previous comments on why decriminalisation must come into effect here and here.