‘Wrong drugs’ caused fatality - panel suspends pharmacist for seven months

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Editorial image

A pharmacist convicted of supplying the wrong drugs to a grandmother who later died has been suspended from practising for seven months.

The sanction was imposed on Martin White, 46, after a professional disciplinary committee ruled that striking him off the register would be a disproportionate sanction.

It held that while his failings were serious they were not seen as being fundamentally incompatible with continue to practise.

The panel, chaired by solicitor Conor Heaney, focused on the pharmacist’s actions rather than the tragic consequences.

White, of Belfast Road in Muckamore, Co Antrim, was responsible for a dispensing error which led to the death of 67-year-old Ethna Walsh in February 2014.

Her husband had gone to the Clear Pharmacy on Antrim’s Station Road to pick up medication for lung disease, COPD.

White was supposed to give her the steroid Prednisolone, but mistakenly lifted a box of Propranolol which slows down the heart.

Later that day Mrs Walsh took the dispensed pills at home, falling ill within minutes.

She was rushed to hospital in an ambulance but later died.

White, who qualified as a pharmacist 21 years ago, told police that he must have given her the wrong drugs.

He said the medications were side by side on a shelf in the pharmacy’s dispensary and had similar branding.

In December last year he was sentenced to four months imprisonment, suspended for two years, after admitting to supplying a medicinal product not specified in the prescription.

By that stage White had resigned from his position as manager at Clear Pharmacy.

Following the court case professional disciplinary proceedings were commenced by the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland.

At a hearing in Belfast last week it examined White’s fitness to practice based on misconduct and his conviction.

White was not present nor represented during those proceedings.

In a newly published judgment, the Society’s statutory committee held that White’s had not acted in a manner professionally expected of him.

His mistake was compounded by failures to get a second person to check the prescription, and to make contact with the patient to offer advice before or after dispensing the medication.

Committee chairman Mr Heaney said: “Mr White’s actions, whilst representing an isolated incident in an otherwise unblemished career, had resulted in grave and profound consequences, namely the tragic death of (Mrs Walsh).”

However, it was recognised that the error was an isolated incident.

White was open and transparent during the investigation into the death and accepted the significance of his role in dispensing the incorrect pills, the committee found.

“The Committee considered that, at this stage, striking-off would be a disproportionate sanction to apply,” Mr Heaney added.

He confirmed: “The Committee determined that it was appropriate to make the suspension order for a seven-month period.

“There will be a mandatory review before the expiry of the order.”