Recent news revealed that, according to voluntary reporting from pharmacists, 10,000 prescription errors are made each year out of one billion. Following the findings from academic research, health ministers believe that the number of people receiving the wrong medicine is in fact much larger – as high as 3% according to the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice.
Plans are underway at the Department of Health to change the law and get pharmacists owning up to their errors. So, is this bad news for the profession, and what does the professional body sector have to say about it?
Ending the Blame Game
At the moment, under the 1968 Medicines Act pharmacists face criminal charges if they own up to making a mistake. According to the government website, “By removing the fear of criminal prosecution, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy teams will be encouraged to report more dispensing errors, so the NHS can learn from when things go wrong, and stop them happening again.”
The BBC reported that lawyers are sceptical, and believe that the new legislation would “simply protect pharmacists from any kind of external scrutiny and accountability.”
We are more inclined to agree with Ash Soni, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPharmS), however. He believes that the change would have a positive impact: “Pharmacists take the responsibility for the safe and correct supply of medicines to patients extremely seriously […] The proposed changes will increase accountability through greater reporting of errors and improve patient safety by sharing the learning from errors across the profession.”
Transparency: Shifting the Boundaries
These new procedures would encourage a culture of transparency in the healthcare industry. Transparency is a topic we dealt with as part of a recent report involving professional body case studies from a range of industries including healthcare, legal and financial.
In recent years we’re seeing a shift among the entire professional body sector towards making more documentation public, including discipline procedures. We see this as a positive change. Not only does it reinforce the accountability of professionals but, in fact, it can also provide a more supportive arena for professionals to share their insecurities and consequently overcome them.
Supporting Public and Professional
Given that some pharmacists are now being given extra responsibility as independent prescribers to take the strain off GPs, the proposed changes by the Department of Health could be quite timely.
We spoke to RPharmS member Rena Amin as part of our 21st Century Professionals interview series who, as an independent prescriber, can have 20-minute appointments with patients and prescribe medication within her field of experience. She explained that there “has to be very robust training and mentoring for the newer professionals” to fit the changing role of the pharmacist as a professional with more responsibility and more contact with the public. So, won’t the plans for a new reporting system help both patient and pharmacist, reassuring both parties that structures are in place to protect public health and support the profession, rather than threatening professionals with sanctions for every error?
We want your thoughts – let us know in the comments what you think about the proposed changes to the pharmaceutical error reporting system.