Northern Ireland

'Wrong pills' pharmacist given suspended sentence

Martin White Image copyright Alan Lewis Photopress Belfast
Image caption It is understood this is the first prosecution of its kind in Northern Ireland

A pharmacist has been given a suspended sentence for supplying the wrong drugs to a grandmother of 15 who later died.

Martin White, 45, of Belfast Road, Muckamore, County Antrim, was sentenced at Antrim Court on Friday.

It is understood this is the first prosecution of its kind in Northern Ireland.

The family of 67-year-old Ethna Walsh, who died in February 2014 said they hoped "hard lessons" would be learned from her "unnecessary" death.

Slows the heart

The judge said Mrs Walsh's death had been caused by a "single momentary lapse of concentration" and was sentenced to four months in prison suspended for two years.

Mrs Walsh, a mother of seven, 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 Prednisolone, which is a steroid, but instead he picked up a box of Propranolol which slows down the heart.

Mrs Walsh took the pills she had been given at home but within minutes she had difficulty breathing and became unwell.

Image copyright Alan Lewis Photopress Belfast
Image caption White told police that he must have given her the wrong drugs

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

White told police that he must have given her the wrong drugs.

He said they were side by side on a shelf and had similar branding.

The court previously heard that before the death, White had complained of his "cramped working space" up to 20 times and had been to his GP about his low mood and tiredness.

'Deep regret'

An expert who investigated what had happened said accuracy checks should have been carried out but were not, and this had led to the tragic error.

However, the expert deemed that White was guilty only of "poor professional performance" as opposed to "professional misconduct".

The court heard that White had been earning more than £40,000 a year as a pharmacist but was now on benefits and "did not ever wish to return to being a pharmacist".

It was heard White had expressed "deep regret and sorrow" for Mrs Welsh's death and was receiving psychiatric help.

'Burden of pain'

In a statement given to the BBC, Mrs Walsh's family described her as their "bedrock and centre", adding that she was the "beating heart of her family".

The statement continued: "That her death was due to a series of entirely avoidable errors makes this matter all the more difficult.

"We welcome today's resolution of the criminal proceedings arising from the death and acknowledge the admission of culpability and guilt on the part of Mr White."

The family said that following Mrs Welsh's death, recommendations had been been made to pharmacists regarding dispensing errors.

The statement concluded: "The family of Ethna Walsh hope that other families will be spared the burden of pain, anguish and loss they have had to shoulder and commend, to all community pharmacists, the hard lessons from this unnecessary death."

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