Legal defence for inadvertent dispensing errors to be extended to hospital pharmacists

If approved by Parliament, the defence will now protect hospital pharmacists as well as those working in the community.
medicines on dispensary shelves

A UK-wide legal defence brought in to protect community pharmacists from prosecution in the event of an inadvertent mistake during prescribing is to be extended to pharmacists working in hospitals.

The government has confirmed it will put legislation before Parliament, after carrying out a lengthy consultation.

Once approved, the draft legislation would also extend the defence to those in other relevant pharmacy settings where there were appropriate governance arrangements in place — such as care homes and prisons — and ensure parity across the profession, the government said.

The goal is to remove the threat of criminal sanctions for inadvertent preparation and dispensing errors, as well as encourage a more open culture of reporting errors and in turn improving patient safety.

In a response to the consultation responses, the government said that extending the defence to hospital and other pharmacists had received an overwhelming majority of support.

A chief pharmacist will need to have oversight of the pharmacy service in order for the defences to be available to pharmacy professionals, including pharmacy technicians, the government responses to the consultation confirmed.

And the defence would still apply under circumstances where a medicine has been supplied without a prescription having been written first — an issue that had been raised during the consultation around extending the legislation to hospital pharmacists — as the medicine was supplied under the directions of a prescriber, which could be verbal initially, followed up in writing.

Claire Anderson, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “After a long wait, it’s positive to see that this legislation on inadvertent dispensing errors in hospitals will now go before Parliament. This had cross-party support in 2018 and I’d urge MPs to back this change to improve patient safety.”

The criminal defence against inadvertent prescribing errors came into effect for community pharmacists in 2018.

Pharmacy bodies have since been pushing for the defence to be extended across the sector.

Read more: Rebalancing Board Q&A on dispensing error defence

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, May 2022, Vol 308, No 7961;308(7961)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2022.1.141697

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