Proposed Pharmacy legislation – Is a change in legislation needed?

Medication mistakes by pharmacists and chemists happen more frequently than you probably think. A new law change proposed by the UK government could help pharmacists and chemists avoid facing criminal procedure if they prescribe patients the wrong medication. Providing the errors are recorded, pharmacists can continue working without the fear of legal action. We look at the reactions to this proposed law change from both health and legal sectors.

Removing common mistakes

The proposed law change, which is being pushed by health ministers, looks set to use an airline-style reporting system that can analyse data and search for common reasons for mistakes. For the time being, pharmacists could be living in fear of criminal charges by simply making a mistake. This fear can have a dramatic effect on the confidence and performance of the pharmacist, so this legislation could lead to workers becoming more transparent about the errors made, with more accurate data.

The Department of Health is supporting the idea that legislation will be beneficial to the health industry and lead to higher quality of care for patients. They also feel that the changes will drastically improve the safety of patients; allowing the NHS and medical industry to learn from previous mistakes and to stop them happening.

The chief-editor of Chemist and Druggist Magazine argues that many pharmacists are under intense pressure and stress, some even to the extent of life-threatening. Due to this, over 12,000 pharmacists have signed a petition in favour of the new legislation.

Concerns over “near misses”

Research has highlighted the staggering conclusion that a quarter of a million patients ever year are given the wrong treatment. Statistics also showed that a further million patients were seen as “near misses”. Only seven fatalities have been connected to high street chemists since 2009, but there have been many cases were patients suffered from serious side effects due to wrongly dispensed drugs.

Renu Daly, a medical negligence solicitor from Hudgell Solicitors, recently voiced her concerns on the new proposals. Daly stated that the new proposals would “not improve standards” and could be “dangerous”.

According to Daly, the most important factor is the visibility of errors to patients. “There appears to be a number of contradictions which I fear will not lead to greater openness and transparency throughout the pharmaceutical profession, but I could actually lead to more secrecy and denial. In effect, the proposals may only succeed in protecting pharmacists from not only criminal proceedings, but civil action too. I say this because, worryingly, the proposals suggest some patients may not be informed of an error in dispensation at all if considered to be ‘trivial’ by those making the error.”

Dispense error – Case Study

It may often be assumed that errors in drug dispensation don’t cause serious health repercussion, but it isn’t uncommon for mistakes to have a serious impact.

Dawn Britton, a 62 year old mother from Bristol, died after a local pharmacist dispensed drugs used to treat her diabetes, rather than her regular medication to her ongoing condition with Crohn’s disease.

Both drugs looked exactly the same but the effects were totally different. Dawn collapsed shortly after taking the wrong medication and died from hypoxia caused by low blood sugar levels.

Dawn’s family were devastated, particularly after being told that under new plans to change the Medicines Act, the errors will be free from criminal liability.

Dawn’s daughter, Mrs Haskin’s spoke about the error and its impact:

When my mum died after being given diabetic medication in error, I was horrified to find it wasn’t the first reported case. This error proved fatal for my mum, I couldn’t believe it had happened before and measures had not been in place to stop it happening again.

Steps should have been put in place well before now to prevent this potentially serious error from reoccurring. The impact this error has had on me and my family will never leave us, we have to cope with it every single day.

In my opinion the law as it stands is very loose. In my mum’s case the CPS decided it was not in public interest to prosecute the pharmacist, even though there was a dispensing labelling error”

Future decisions

Currently under review, the pharmacy legislation on dispensing errors and standards comes from the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government. For the time being the feedback from members of the public, the Health Department and legal professions is being considered and the verdict will be due in the near future.

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