Dispensing errors

Monday 24th February 2020

Dispensing errors occur when a pharmacist provides the wrong medication, medication in the wrong dosage, unsuitable alternative medicines (e.g. with allergens) or expired medication.

Pharmacies have rigorous and strict rules in place, but the University of Manchester still estimates that over 200 million dispensing errors happen in the UK each year.

On rare occasions, dispensing errors can cause adverse drug reactions (ADRs) and allergic reactions, or may otherwise harm or injure a patient, leading to the worsening of their condition(s).

Dispensing errors may or may not be attributable to medical negligence, it really depends on the severity of the mistake and how it could have been avoided.

When dispensing errors are linked with a failure to follow correct dispensing practices, negligence or malpractice, it may be possible to submit a dispensing negligence claim for compensation.

What is a dispensing error?

A dispensing error is an error made when issuing prescription medicine, usually from a pharmacy.

The wrong medication or wrong dosage may be dispensed to the patient. Dispensing expired medicine is also a dispensing error. Some medications can cause adverse drug reactions (ADRs) when mixed – pharmacists owe a duty of care to the patient in preventing these errors.

There are many thousands of types of medication from hundreds of brands and many come in varying doses. Some well-known brands and medications are visually similar.

Some examples are Fexofenadine (12mg), Alendronic Acid (70mg) and Bisoprolol fumarate (5 mg), which all look extremely similar to one another. We’ve provided a few more examples of medications that are notoriously similar and easy to confuse.

What are the types of dispensing errors?

There are 4 main types of medication dispensing errors:

–       Supplementing with a new brand and not double checking the dosage and ingredients for possible discrepancies or allergies

–       Dispensing the wrong medication altogether

–       Dispensing medication in the wrong dosages, e.g. a higher or lower dose

–       Dispensing expired medication

Though these are all mistakes, they might not necessarily all result from negligence. For example, a pharmacist may not have information on allergens to check new medication against.

In this case, the pharmacist would not have been negligent, but someone else might have, and this could still amount to clinical negligence if you were harmed or injured.

The pharmacist could also defend giving you a higher or lower dosage if they claim they instructed you to change your dose accordingly.

Dispensing errors are complex – you will need to enlist a trained clinical negligence solicitor to assist you with your claim.

Why do dispensing errors happen?

Medications are numerous and diverse and even trained pharmacists are liable to mistakes.

There are rigorous protocols and regulations in place to prevent dispensing errors, but it’s more or less impossible to totally eliminate all errors.

Dispensing errors often occur in busy, fast-paced environments when staff are already stretched, or when staff haven’t received complete or adequate training.

Most of the time, this would not be a valid defence for negligence. Pharmacists owe patients a legal duty of care and correct protocol and practice must be followed at all times.

Where a dispensing error has been made and the correct protocol was not followed, this could constitute negligence.

Managing dispensing error risk

Dispensing errors have been minimised over the years. The National Pharmaceutical Association (NDA) and the NHS have developed more robust dispensing practices, guidelines and regulations to keep dispensing errors low.

High-tech stocktaking and medication selection methods have helped pharmacists visualise exactly what they’re giving to a patient, allowing them to double-check the medication they’re providing against a patient’s condition, symptoms or illness.

Despite improvements in dispensing error rates, they are still startlingly common. Most dispensing errors are picked up by the patient and are resolved promptly before they begin to take the medication. Others go unnoticed or are medically inconsequential.

Rarely, a dispensing error can cause serious harm, especially if it causes an ADR or allergic reaction.

What to do if you have been a victim of a medication dispensing error

If you believe a dispensing error led to harm, injury or the worsening of your condition(s), then you may be entitled to compensation.

Waldrons Solicitors have extensive experience in medical negligence cases, including dispensing errors. We will work with you to establish what happened, how you were harmed or injured and whether negligence played a part in this.

Medical or clinical negligence extends to pharmacies, who like other healthcare services, have a legal duty of care. Where this duty of care was not upheld leading to negligence and ultimately, harm or injury, it may be possible to claim compensation.

If you have any queries or questions about dispensing errors or any other type of medical negligence then please contact us today. A member of our clinical negligence law team will be in touch as soon as possible.