The Board of the Pharmacy Forum NI expresses its disappointment at the criminal prosecution of Northern Ireland pharmacist Martin White following a dispensing error which tragically resulted in the death of a patient.

The Pharmacy Forum conveys deepest sympathies to the family of Mrs Ethna Walsh who died as a result of taking propranolol tablets, dispensed in error against a prescription for prednisolone in 2014.


However, the Pharmacy Forum Board believes this prosecution is a blow to the profession; in as much as it out of step with the very positive changes  being made to promote a safe learning culture in relation to dispensing errors. The Forum believes that these changes are in the interest of the public and the profession.

Currently, medicines legislation is such that pharmacists are at risk of being criminally prosecuted for single dispensing errors, as in the case of Mr White. However, there has long been an appetite to address this and review current legislation to align sanctions and penalties for errors made by pharmacists with other healthcare professionals.

Since 2013 the Pharmacy Forum has participated in the Department of Health (DH’s) Programme  Board for Rebalancing Medicines Legislation and Pharmacy Regulation; set up to assure patient and public safety whilst also removing barriers to the development of pharmacy practice.

In 2015 DH launched a consultation on decriminalising dispensing errors by providing pharmacists a defence against criminal sanctions for dispensing errors made ‘inadvertently.’   You can read the Pharmacy Forum NI’s response to the consultation here.

As pharmacists, the Board of the Forum understands the fear amongst the profession of making dispensing errors and causing inadvertent harm to patients or members of the public as a result of human error. The Forum also acknowledges the negative impact that this fear can have on the reporting of errors and near misses to learn from mistakes.


The Forum’s sadness at this particular case is three-fold; sadness for the bereaved family, sadness for our pharmacist colleague who has faced great personal turmoil, and sadness that in light of the recent consultation on decriminalising dispensing errors and the ongoing work to change medicines legislation in the near future this prosecution has occurred.

Changes to the law have been delayed thus far by factors outside the control of the Rebalancing Programme Board which is typical of endeavours to change legislation.  However, the Pharmacy Forum Board remains fully committed to supporting DH’s programme of change to medicines legislation and pharmacy regulation. The Forum believes it is of utmost importance for the entire profession and for the public that these changes are made.

Open, Safety-focused culture

As the representative body for all pharmacists in Northern Ireland the Forum is also committed to supporting the profession to report errors and near-misses and create an open, safety-focused culture where we can learn from mistakes and put in place safe systems to prevent errors from occurring again. A key piece of this work is the development of Professional Standards in Error Reporting developed alongside the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and APTUK.

The Pharmacy Forum’s sole aim to lead, promote and support the pharmacy profession in Northern Ireland. You can read about all our latest work on our website at www.

The Pharmacy Forum wishes to remind all pharmacists that the Pharmacist Advice and Support Service (PASS) offers a range of services to support pharmacists in times of need through signposting, counselling and short term financial support. All services are free, impartial and confidential. For more information visit or call the PASS coordinator on 02890326927.