Dispensing errors decriminalisation legislation passed by committees in both Houses of Parliament

Decriminalisation of dispensing error legislation is moving forward quickly.

Houses of Parliament, London

Source: Carlton Reid

Steve Brine, pharmacy minister, said that the draft order on dispensing errors encourages a “culture of candid and fulsome contributions from those involved when things go wrong”

New legislation to protect community pharmacists from prosecution over inadvertent dispensing errors has been passed by committees in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

Presenting the draft Pharmacy (Preparation and Dispensing Errors–Registered Pharmacies) Order 2018 to the House of Commons First Delegated Legislation Committee, pharmacy minister Steve Brine described it as an important step forward in addressing barriers to pharmacists providing a safer, higher quality service.

Now the legislation must be approved by both full houses and then signed into law by the Privy Council.

“This order supports improved patient safety by encouraging a culture of candid and fulsome contributions from those involved when things go wrong,” Brine said.

“Let me be clear — this is not about accepting the inevitability of dispensing errors … it is to ensure we collect information on errors that do occur and think hard about how to prevent them in future,” he told the committee.

Although, the new legislation does not cover pharmacists working in hospital pharmacies, Brine assured the committee that this will be addressed in a separate piece of legislation to be consulted on early in 2018.

However, speaking at the House of Lords Grand Committee, which discussed the order, Conservative peer Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen said that the government would be looking into this extra legislation “come the summer”.

“It will be interesting to learn how this works in the pharmacy setting and then to bring that forward. We are keen that that happens,” she said.

At the Commons First Delegated Legislation Committee meeting, shadow health minister, Julie Cooper, expressed concern that the new legislation does not contain any formal requirement to enforce action when an error is made.

Scottish National Party MP, Philippa Whitford, also called for the obligation to report to be formalised.

However, both MPs, as well as the committee, supported the new legislation and recommended that it be taken forward.

Replying to Brine, Cooper, who is MP for Burnley and Padiham, welcomed the order as a “step in the right direction” and she said that the legal changes were “long overdue”.

However, she warned that pharmacists would still not be on a level with other healthcare professionals and that they could still face a police investigation and trial.

The proposed legislation does not remove the offence of making dispensing errors, but it does provide a statutory defence for community pharmacists and technicians.

“They will have to hold on to the hope that they can successfully use the defences, but they may still face prosecution under other provisions of the 1968 Act,” Cooper said.

“I hope that the minister will consider further legislation to ensure that inadvertent errors are totally decriminalised.”

This concern was echoed at the House of Lords Grand Committee, by Liberal Democrat MP Lord Clement-Jones, who said that changing the defence, rather than changing the offence “seems to keep a sword hanging over the pharmacist in an unhelpful way”.

Clement-Jones went on to say that he hoped the government would start to take hold of the opportunity to make the best use of “the real and valuable resource that is represented by community pharmacy”.

“It is a gap in our health policy and I hope that the government will take it forward,” he said.

In the Commons, Cooper also urged Brine to enable all pharmacists to have full read and write access to patient records.

“All health professionals involved in the care of a patient surely need access to the fullest information, without the danger of knowledge gaps or incorrect information regarding past medications.

“That would aid continuity of care and contribute to safer patient outcomes,” she said.

Brine responded saying that he was interested in making the changes and was currently exploring how to make this happen.

“It is of some frustration to me that it seems to be an IT issue as much as anything else,” he said.

“If pharmacists are to be integrated within our primary care system as much as I want them to be, I suggest that that is very important.”

Now that the Order has been through both a delegated legislation committee and grand committee the next step is for the motion to be approved by the House of Commons and Lords as a whole. There is as yet no date set for this to take place.

Once the Order has approval from both Houses it will be signed into law at a Privy Council meeting and will come into force automatically 28 days later.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, December 2017, Vol 299, No 7908;299(7908):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2017.20204079

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