Decriminalising inadvertent dispensing errors

The Dispensing Doctor’s Association was among those consulted on proposals to decriminalise inadvertent dispensing errors by pharmacists and pharmacy technicians across Great Britain.

Click here to read the DDA’s consultation response, which also includes comments made to the Pharmacy (Premises Standards, Information Obligations etc.) Order 2016 consultation.

In its response to the dispensing errors consultation, the DDA says that rather than create a new defence for inadvertent dispensing errors, the existing criminal offence should be removed. It also calls for the pharmacy’s  Responsible Pharmacist to be accountable for dispensing errors made in the pharmacy during their period of responsibility. However, it adds that pharmacy professionals should be able to retain clinical autonomy when making dispensing decisions that deviate from am established pharmacy process.

The consultation, which ran until May 14, 2015, asks for views on proposals including to retain the criminal offence of dispensing error but to provide a new defence for pharmacy professionals against prosecution for inadvertent dispensing errors, subject to certain conditions. 

The Department of Health explains the intention of the consultation, Rebalancing Medicines Legislation and Pharmacy Regulation: draft Orders under section 60 of the Health Act 1999, is to remove the threat of criminal sanction for inadvertent preparation and dispensing errors, while retaining the criminal sanction for those errors or deliberate acts that do not reflect professional practice. It explains: “The Berwick Report makes the point that fear is toxic to both safety and improvement.This is especially so in the case of dispensing errors, where all such errors are strict liability offences, which means that a criminal offence is committed even if the error itself is unintentional and regardless of the level of patient impact.”

The DDA has been involved in the work programme which aims to rebalance criminal law and professional regulation. As part of this work the rebalancing work programme will also look to provide greater clarity on the role, accountability and competence of pharmacy owners and superintendent pharmacists.