A new law designed to protect pharmacists from criminal prosecution if they make a genuine error while dispensing medicine is to come into effect next month.
This is according to a report in Chemist + Druggist magazine, which states it has learned that the Pharmacy (Preparation and Dispensing Errors – Registered Pharmacies) Order 2018 was signed off by the Queen last month and is now ready to be passed as a piece of legislation.
A government board of Privy Council members was set up to readdress the law surrounding medicines and it is now looking into whether it should extend the proposals to cover pharmacists working in hospitals and other services.
Under the new law, pharmacists will not be subject to criminal sanctions if they can demonstrate that they acted "in the course of their profession", supplied a medicine based on a prescription or patient group directive and promptly informed the patient about the error as soon as it was discovered.
Prosecution will only be possible if proof can be found "beyond reasonable doubt" that a pharmacist improperly misused their professional skills or deliberately disregarded patient safety.
Board chair Ken Jarrold said he feels "great strides" have been made in implementing these proposals in dispensing error defence.
"This important development aligns pharmacy professionals with other health professions, and will support increased reporting and learning from errors," he added.
Jeremy Hunt, health and social care secretary, first proposed new measures designed to reduce harm caused by medication errors last month.
It comes after a study by researchers at the universities of Manchester, Sheffield and York discovered that there may be as many as 237 million drug errors in the UK each year, although that figure comes from GPs, hospitals, care homes and pharmacies altogether.
In most cases, the errors cause no problems, but in more than a quarter of the cases studies, the mistakes may have caused serious harm.
Drug errors may cause 700 deaths a year and be a factor in as many as 22,300, the study authors said.