Robbie Turner, the director of England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, has said new legislation which will offer pharmacists a defence against prosecution for dispensing errors will encourage them to report mistakes as they will be “less stressed about doing that” having had to work under the threat of automatic criminalisation for so long.

Intense concern has swirled around the law, which comes into effect on April 16 and applies to medicines supplied on prescription, largely because of its potentially ambiguous wording.

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) also expressed anxieties that the law covers just two sections of the Medicines Act 1968 and recently wrote to Steve Brine, the minister with responsibility for pharmacy, to air their views. PDA chairman Mark Koziol said he could not advise his members to report errors while the risk of prosecution remains.

In an interview with Pharmacy Business Turner (pictured) said the RPS was “pleased we have got to a place that was much better than the place we were at not so long ago” and insisted the defence would not put pharmacists off reporting errors.

“I really hope it does because for us to maintain and develop a safety culture within pharmacy, one of the significant barriers was the threat of automatic criminalisation for dispensing errors,” he said.

“That was a threat that hung over every pharmacist every single day of their career and I remember being a pharmacist and being petrified of making a dispensing error, both the impact that would have on the patients who I knew really well but also on my on career, my livelihood and perhaps my liberty as well.

“We too often saw pharmacists who were trying their best and doing fantastic work being criminalised because of a genuine mistake and it was important that wasn’t allowed to carry on. The RPS has been instrumental in ensuring this was kept at the top of the agenda for politicians and policy-makers across a range of political parties and coalitions and we are pleased we have got to a place that was much better than the place we were at not so long ago.

“As a professional who has practised under the old regulations of being automatically criminalised to now having a defence that means I will not automatically be criminalised I think is a really positive step forward. Pharmacists can have more of an assurance now that they will have a defence that enables them to practice in a way that enables them to report errors and be able to learn from errors which will enable them to be less stressed about doing that.”

When pressed to say if he thought rather than hoped the defence would encourage pharmacists to report errors, Turner said: “I think it will because so many of my colleagues have described to me the reason why they don’t report is because of the threat of automatic criminalisation.

“We are governed by a board of elected pharmacists all of whom are practising pharmacists many of whom work in community pharmacy and they describe to me their current working environment, they have described to me the continued threat that the automatic criminalisation for dispensing errors had on them and the impact that had on them being able to confidently report errors.

“So we have removed one of then significant barriers to reporting errors, so I hope in a positive way that is accepted by pharmacists and they see this enabling them to reflect on errors, learn from them and help their colleagues learn from them.”


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