The proposal in the government consultation ‘Rebalancing Medicines Legislation and Pharmacy Regulation’, which ends on 14 May 2015, is more than welcome. The proposal, if enacted, would end the situation where a single dispensing error was automatically a criminal offence, potentially prosecutable. It has been a long time coming. The proposals are sensible. Criminal and regulatory sanctions will remain for causing deliberate harm to patients and for unacceptably careless or unsafe practice, respectively.
I am particularly delighted by these proposals because it will facilitate other changes in pharmacy practice that have begun to make progress. I refer to the expansion of our clinical roles. A number of things have hindered this development, especially in community pharmacies. The fact that a dispensing error has been the cardinal sin to avoid for so many decades has contributed to us clinging on to the close personal supervision and checking of this now largely technical process.
Dispensing can be made safe in many ways and I am not for one moment arguing against the clinical check, or the presence of a pharmacist. This proposal, when it becomes law, will, however, allow pharmacists to feel more comfortable when interacting with patients or colleagues away from the dispensing bench. It will make a difference over time.
Undergraduates and pre-registration trainees are still, in my experience, being educated to fear the dispensing process and especially their responsibility for it. This change in the law will gradually ease that situation.
Whether we can ever get all pharmacy owners, especially large chains, owned and run by even bigger and more remote business interests, to treat their pharmacists as true professionals, rather than as cogs in a purely commercial machine, remains to be seen.