New legal defence against inadvertent dispensing errors comes into force

The new law will protect community pharmacists from prosecution in the event of an inadvertent mistake during dispensing.


The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has welcomed the introduction of a UK-wide criminal defence against inadvertent dispensing errors, which has come into force on 16 April 2018.

The new law will protect community pharmacists from prosecution in the event of an inadvertent mistake during dispensing. The RPS said the law “aims to increase patient safety by reducing the fear of criminal prosecution amongst pharmacists for honest errors”, and that it will encourage a more open culture of error reporting allowing pharmacists to learn from mistakes.

Ash Soni, president of the RPS, said the new law was “excellent news for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and for patient safety.

“After several years of dialogue with the government, the NHS and the profession, our hard work and consistent advocacy on this issue has won through and we now have a new law protecting community pharmacists from automatic prosecution should they make an honest mistake.”

But Soni cautioned that protection neeed to be expanded across the sector. “This long-awaited change will be welcomed by the whole profession, but I recognise there is still work to do to see similar measures put in place for pharmacists outside of registered pharmacies,” he said.

“We now need to address this inequity faced by those working in the managed sector, so we will continue pressing the overnment to create a similar defence for pharmacists working in hospitals and other settings.

“We are pleased that the pharmacy minister, Steve Brine, has reaffirmed his commitment to seeing this happen.”

In a statement released on 9 April 2018, the Rebalancing Medicines Legislation and Pharmacy Regulation Programme Board said the government would shortly consult on similar proposals to extend the defences to pharmacy professionals working in hospitals and other pharmacy services. The Board has issued a Q&A on the new law.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) also welcomed the defence. “We have advocated for this change in the law for a number of years and are delighted that it is now in effect,” said Duncan Rudkin, chief executive of the GPhC.

“For our part, we will be considering how we can better use and share the information we receive about dispensing errors to support learning, reduce risks and improve patient outcomes. We recognise that the possibility of action by the regulator can also deter people from reporting errors. It is important to emphasise that single dispensing errors would not, in our view, constitute a fitness to practise concern, unless there were aggravating factors.”

The RPS has published a new Quick Reference Guide, Making Things Right When There’s Been a Dispensing Error, which can be accessed on the RPS website.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, April 2018, Vol 300, No 7912;300(7912):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20204685

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