Hospital pharmacists could still face criminal prosecution for making an inadvertent dispensing error, despite UK government proposals to change the Medicines Act 1968.
The proposed reforms to medicines legislation, which could in future provide a defence to pharmacists who make a dispensing error, will only apply to pharmacists working from registered premises.
The body set up to oversee the changes to the law is looking for a solution so that hospital pharmacists will be given the same legal protection from criminal prosecution for making a dispensing error as their colleagues in the community.
“Personally, after all this time I cannot see how any organisation, representing either hospital pharmacists or technicians, or the wider public, can welcome a partial change in legislation that does not remove the threat of a strict liability criminal prosecution from the whole profession of pharmacy,” says David Miller, immediate past president and past chair of the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists, which represents hospital pharmacists.
Under the current proposals, now out for consultation until 14 May 2015, the protection from prosecution will only apply if the medicine is sold or supplied from a registered pharmacy. Although community pharmacies have to be registered in order to provide pharmacy services, hospital pharmacies do not.
“Hospital pharmacies do not need to be registered – many are not,” said the government’s Rebalancing Medicines Legislation and Pharmacy Regulation Programme Board in a statement released on 16 February 2015.
It is now considering whether making it a requirement that hospital pharmacy services must be under the direction of a pharmacist might be enough to offer hospital pharmacists the same legal protection as their community colleagues.
The board said “it recognised the importance of bringing forward proposals for hospital pharmacy professionals at the earliest opportunity”.
“Ensuring that hospital pharmacy professionals have the same right to protection against criminal prosecution for inadvertent dispensing errors is a priority for the board,” said Ken Jarrold, the board’s chair.
“We know that fear of prosecution can hinder an open reporting and learning culture. That is why the board is considering the proposals for hospital pharmacy and is exploring the issues carefully to make sure that what is proposed can apply throughout the UK.”
The board’s advisory group decided against recommending a change in the law to make it a statutory requirement for all hospital premises to be registered because it said the move would be out of proportion to the need.
Currently, hospital pharmacists who make a dispensing error have not committed a criminal offence under section 64 of the Medicines Act if the error occurs when the medicine is dispensed according to the directions of a doctor or another prescriber (which is the case for most medicines supplied in hospitals). However, if the error occurs when the medicine is supplied against a prescription or sold they could face a criminal prosecution. And under section 63 of the Act, which relates to the adulteration of medicines, dispensing errors made by hospital pharmacists could also result in criminal charges.