Laying legislation providing a legal defence for inadvertent dispensing errors before Parliament is a welcome – if long overdue – leap towards decriminalisation, says The Pharmacist editor Beth Kennedy

At long blimmin’ last. The sector’s collective sigh of relief yesterday as the Government took the next step in the journey to decriminalising inadvertent dispensing errors was almost palpable.

But, good God, what a long – and stilted – journey it’s already been. Despite the proposal for a legal defence for inadvertent dispensing errors being mooted in 2015, it’s taken two drawn-out years for the required legislation to be laid before Parliament.

There was renewed hope that decriminalisation might finally start its path through Government in early September, when pharmacy minister Steve Brine promised a ‘commitment’ to laying the amendment to the Medicines Act 1968 before Parliament.

I must admit that at the time I was rather sceptical – familiar as I am with the numerous delays in finalising the legislation – that this would ever actually happen. So imagine my surprise that Mr Brine has indeed been true to his word, and just over two months since making this promise to boot.

But I’m happy to have been proven wrong in this situation. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that humble pie has never tasted so sweet.

Because the fact of the matter is that decriminalising inadvertent dispensing errors is long, long overdue. It’s already too late for Elizabeth Lee, who received a suspended custodial sentence in 2009 for accidentally dispensing propranolol instead of prednisolone And it’s too late for Martin White, who was slapped with a two-year suspended sentence last year for making the same dispensing error.

Frankly, it’s too late for any pharmacist who’s spent a sleepless night panicking over whether they made a dispensing error that day and, if they did, whether it could land them in jail.

Well, hopefully change is afoot. The Department of Health (DH) told The Pharmacist yesterday that, if all goes well, the new law could actually materialise early next year.

I must admit that there’s a familiar niggle of scepticism in the back of my mind, given decriminalisation’s track record of being pushed back. But this time I’m going to ignore it.

After all, what with funding cuts, a category M clawback and the threat of closures to contend with, I’d say that community pharmacy is owed some good luck for a change. Here’s hoping the Universe takes this into account and gives decriminalisation a smooth journey to being enshrined in law as quickly as possible.

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