Northern Ireland

'Wrong pills' pharmacist suspended after woman's death

Martin White Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Martin White's actions had "grave consequences", a disciplinary committee found

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 after a professional disciplinary committee ruled that striking him off the register would be disproportionate.

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

The panel focused on the pharmacist's actions rather than their consequences.

White, 46, of Belfast Road in Muckamore, County Antrim, was responsible for a dispensing error that led to the death of 67-year-old Ethna Walsh in February 2014.

Ill within minutes

Her husband had gone to a pharmacy in Antrim to pick up medication for the lung disease COPD.

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

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

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 in prison, suspended for two years, after admitting to supplying a medicinal product not specified in the prescription.

By that stage he had resigned from his position as manager at the pharmacy.

'Grave, profound consequences'

The Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland started professional disciplinary proceedings after the court case.

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

In a newly-published judgment, the society's statutory committee held that White 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 Conor Heaney said that White's actions had resulted in "grave and profound consequences".

However, it was recognised that the error was an "isolated incident in an otherwise unblemished career".

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.

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