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Community pharmacist admits fatal medicine mistake

3 April 2009

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A pharmacist who had worked a 10-hour shift without a break wept in court when it heard an elderly woman collapsed and later died after she gave her the wrong drugs.

The daughter of 72-year-old cancer sufferer Carmel Sheller was given a heart rate reducing drug by Elizabeth Lee, 30, who was working on the busy Tesco counter in Dedworth Road, Windsor.

She was in fact supposed to be collecting the steroid prednisolone for her mother who had been prescribed the drug to treat her wheezing and lung inflammation, the Old Bailey heard.

Ms Lee was working as a locum and was in sole charge of the counter when she made the mistake “under pressure” as two other pharmacists were both on maternity leave. The court heard the mother of two had been working from 9am to 7pm.

After pleading guilty to supplying medicine with a misleading label on the package Ms Lee was given a suspended sentence of three months under a breach of the Medicines Act 1968 – an offence carrying a maximum two-year jail sentence.

“Within less than 10 minutes, she became ill. She lost consciousness, fluid was running out of her nose and her eyes were rolling backwards,” Fiona Horlick, prosecuting said.

Mrs Sheller took eight of the pills, which in fact contained a beta blocker called propanolol, which has the effect of reducing heart rate. She was taken to hospital and was found to be suffering from a reduced heart rate. She died three days later.

A pathologist concluded heart failure, chronic bronchitis and emphysema and lung cancer were responsible for her death rather than the drugs she took.

Copyright © Press Association 2009

Medicines Act 1968

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“No! Does a doctor who makes an error ever receive a prison sentence?” – Chris Hampson, Manchester