Pharmacy organisations have welcomed Jeremy Hunt’s call to reduce the thousands of deaths caused by medication errors each year.

The move follows the findings of research commissioned by the Department of Heath and Social Care (DHSC), which revealed that medication errors could cause up to 1,700 deaths and contribute to 22,000 deaths every year.

Speaking at the Global Patient Safety summit in London today (23 February), Mr Hunt will announced a range of new initiatives including pharmacy dispensing error decriminalisation among others.

‘Welcome step’

Commenting on the Mr Hunt's initiative, chief executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) Duncan Rudkin said: ‘We know that pharmacy professionals play a key role in patient safety, including identifying and correcting errors as well as supporting patients to take their medication safely.

‘The change in legislation in relation to dispensing errors highlighted by the Secretary of State is an important and welcome step to support a learning culture, as it will remove a barrier for those working in registered pharmacies to improved reporting and learning.’

‘Pharmacists play a key role’

Sandra Gidley, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's (RPS) English Pharmacy board, said that ‘whilst the vast majority of prescriptions prescribed in the NHS are safe, it would be extremely worrying for patients that medication errors contribute to thousands of deaths a year’.

She continued: ‘This latest research underlines the importance of pharmacists having access to vital information from a patient's record to enhance safety.

‘We now need to build on this by enabling pharmacists to update a clinical record with details of any treatment they provide.

‘Pharmacists can play a key role in supporting patients to reduce medicine errors, particularly working with GPs, to improve prescribing.’

‘Highest levels of care’

Numark managing director Jeremy Meader argued that despite increasing prescription volumes year on year paralleled with severe funding cuts, ‘pharmacists and their staff continue to provide the highest levels of care and service to patients day in day out’.

He added: ‘Pharmacy takes great pride in dispensing prescriptions accurately as evidenced by the significantly low numbers of dispensing errors that occur.

‘Consistently, pharmacists also intervene and sort out prescribing errors in conjunction with their local GPs and hospitals, a task that more often than not goes unnoticed.

‘The process of de-criminalising dispensing errors will further enhance an open and transparent culture in pharmacy and we commend Mr Hunt in supporting this change.’