Pharmacy Forum NI has been a member of the Rebalancing Pharmacy Programme Board since 2013. The purpose of the Board has been to review relevant pharmacy legislation and regulation, ensuring it provides safety for users of pharmacy services; reduces any unnecessary legislation; and allows innovation and development of pharmacy practice.

As a key outcome of the Rebalancing Board’s work and a public consultation held in 2018, the Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) on 28 April 2022, laid before the Westminster Parliament two draft Orders (details below), which will support wider work being taken by the government, the NHS and the devolved administrations to address medication errors, improve patient safety and strengthen and clarify governance arrangements in registered pharmacies.

Pharmacy Forum NI welcomes the passage of this legislation, which has been subject to many delays including the 2019 General Election, EU Exit and most recently the global pandemic.

The Hospital Order

The Pharmacy (Preparation and Dispensing Errors – Hospital and other Pharmacy Services) Order 2022 extends existing defences to the criminal offences relating to inadvertent preparation or dispensing errors by registered pharmacy professionals to professionals working in hospitals and other pharmacy services (e.g. in prisons and care homes).

Pharmacy Forum NI welcomes this development as it brings our hospital colleagues in line with community pharmacy colleagues who have availed of the defences which came into force for them in April 2018.

The overarching aim of the policy is to remove the threat of criminal sanctions for inadvertent preparation and dispensing errors which has long been cited as a barrier to reporting and learning from any incident or near miss errors. We know from research this policy will incentivise an increase in the reporting of dispensing errors and importantly for the profession further increase in safety for our patients and the public.

The Responsible Pharmacists/Superintendent Pharmacists Order

This policy intent will create better clarity around the role of the Responsible Pharmacist (RP), Superintendent Pharmacist (SP) and owner and their core purpose in a registered pharmacy. This long-awaited reform of the legislation around RP, that is no longer fit for purpose as it does not define the role of others, will allow for strengthening of the organisational governance requirements and accountability within pharmacies and creation of a better framework to maximise the skill mix with pharmacy teams.

The Forum also welcomes the approach of defining the statutory general duties of RP and SP in legislation and for the general responsibilities to be set by the regulators (the Pharmaceutical Society NI and the General Pharmaceutical Council) which will allow in future for more agile reform if required in line with practice development and innovation. Changing primary legislation can potentially take a long time and so long as the necessary protections are included in legislation for the public, we believe the professional regulatory frameworks are a better vehicle to define responsibilities in a fast changing healthcare arena.

In terms of next steps, it is hoped this legislation will progress through Parliament and pending approval by both Houses, work with the Privy Council the orders will be approved and commenced as soon as practically possible. DHSC has formally stated that the laying of this legislation represents a natural end of the Board’s work and has marked its closure.

The Forum will keep members updated on developments on this front.