‘Lessons have to be learned’ from grandmother’s death

The wrong pills were given out to grandmother of 15 Ethna Walsh
The wrong pills were given out to grandmother of 15 Ethna Walsh

An “overworked” pharmacist who made a tragic error and gave out the wrong pills which later killed grandmother of 15, Ethna Walsh, has been freed after his four-month jail-term was suspended for two years.

In the wake of the Antrim Crown Court case of 45-year-old pharmacist Martin White, the family of 67-year-old Mrs Walsh called on community pharmacists to learn “the hard lessons” from her “unnecessary death” and ensure medicines were dispensed properly.

In the first case of its kind in Northern Ireland, White, a pharmacist of 24 years, of Belfast Road, Muckamore, on the outskirts of Antrim, admitted filling out the wrong prescription for Mrs Walsh on February 6, 2014. She later died in hospital.

In a statement issued on behalf of Mrs Walsh’s husband Joe and their seven daughters, the family said her death “was due to a series of entirely avoidable errors... the medication was selected in error, labelled in error and accuracy checking failed to disclose the mistake”.

However, the family said they welcomed the “resolution of the criminal proceedings arising from the death and acknowledge the admission of culpability and guilt on behalf of Mr White”.

The family said they hoped “through their misfortune and loss, that some good will come of this tragic event”, and that community pharmacists follow new recommendations in preventing dispensing errors.

Earlier Judge Gordon Kerr QC acknowledged that the death of Mrs Walsh has had a devastating effect.

The judge said the dispensing of the wrong drug for her COPD lung illness was due to a combination of factors, including a momentary lapse in concentration.

Judge Kerr said the damage and injury caused by the pharmacist of 24 years, earning up to £40,000 but now on benefits and never wanting to return to his profession, could not be higher.

However, his degree of culpability, as described in an expert’s report, was the result of “poor professional performance, but not professional misconduct”.

The judge said his negligence “was more than minimal, but accept as did the expert ..... there is no evidence of intentional negligence”.

Judge Kerr added given cumulated effect of White’s guilty plea, previous good character, loss of reputation and career and permanent financial loss, he did not feel an immediate custodial sentence was necessary.

The court heard earlier that instead of being given Prednisolone, Mr White had been given a box of Propranolol.