Martin White, 45, is said to have been chronically “overworked” at the time when he accidentally prescribed Ethna Walsh, 67, propranolol rather than prednisolone, which within hours led to her sudden demise. White's lawyer says the accident, which apparently stemmed from the fact that both drugs start with the letter “p,” was just a case of “an ordinary man who struggled because he worked too hard.”
But Walsh's family doesn't necessarily agree with this legal diagnosis, including Walsh's husband Joe who gave her the drug once she arrived home with it. A prosecution lawyer told BBC News that, within minutes, Walsh was having trouble breathing. Not long after when she was brought by ambulance to a local hospital, she died.
Propranolol and prednisolone have similar branding, claims White's legal team, and because both were positioned nearby to one another on the shelf, a mistake was inevitable. But once again illustrating the severe nature of pharmaceutical drugs, this mistake actually cost a patient her life, and completely unnecessarily.
There are certain checks and balances that pharmacists are supposed to take before dispensing drugs that include abiding by the required checks established under the Pharmacy Standard Operation Procedures, reports indicate. White claims he did all of this, but apparently it wasn't enough to avoid killing someone who was entrusted to his care.
In a further attempt to defend his failure to check the drugs before dispensing them, White told police that his workspace at the pharmacy was just too darn cramped, and that his working conditions were creating constant feelings of fatigue, tiredness, and poor mood.
Experts who took a closer look into White's claims say he didn't actually abide by the rules when it came to dispensing drugs, and that accuracy checks were not taken. In his defense, however, they did rule that the cause of the fatality was “poor professional conduct” as opposed to “professional misconduct.”
After Walsh's death, White says he was simply too “racked with guilt” to return to work. He has since enrolled under the care of a psychiatric physician, and has instructed his lawyer to offer his deepest condolences to the Welsh family, a gesture that he admits “may not be very well received.”
Prior to the incident, White had a solid track record of professional conduct with few, if any, mistakes. He has accepted responsibility for the error, BBC News reports, and “will carry it for the rest of his life.”
“This is his first mistake after almost a quarter of a century of employment,” White's lawyer told the media, noting that White regularly worked up to 60 hours per week and was “always on call.”
White has since been sentenced to a four-month prison sentence for his crime, and will have to cease performing pharmacist duties for two years. Fellow pharmacist Pam Adams from Gloucestershire, recently set up a petition calling for errors such as the one White made to stop being criminalized. What happened was a “tragic mistake,” she admits, but not one that deserves criminal punishment.
“Pharmacists, doctors and nurses all face long hours, understaffing, relentless demand and pressure to work through breaks,” the petition states. “Criminal prosecution and sentencing is not the way to help the NHS learn from errors and improve healthcare.”