Only trained nurses should dispense medicine, jury urges

The inquest jury recommended that only trained and registered nurses be allowed to dispense medicine to patients, after finding two patients of a Wong Tai Sin doctor had died as a result of a drugs mix-up.

The jury also suggested that drugs' generic names should be printed alongside their trade names.

The recommendations were made by the five-member jury, which ruled yesterday on the deaths of five elderly patients wrongly given a diabetes drug instead of medicine for stomach pain. The jury reached a verdict of misadventure in the deaths of two of the five.

The inquest heard that a misunderstanding between a nursing assistant who placed the order for the drugs by phone and a drug company salesman who handled the call may have led to the mix-up. In light of that, the jury suggested nursing staff fill out order forms for drugs.

Legislator Joseph Lee Kok-long said there was an urgent need to separate the prescribing and dispensing of drugs. He said staff lacking qualifications should not be allowed to handle medicines.

'Nurses are not trained to handle drugs,' he said. Community pharmacists were the most appropriate people to dispense drugs.

William Chui Chun-ming, education director of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists, said that the prescribing and dispensing of drugs should be separated, in the long term, and in the meantime private clinics should employ qualified people to dispense drugs.

Mr Chui said a pharmacist's role was to verify doctors' prescriptions and supervise dispensing, while dispensers were purely responsible for giving out drugs to patients.

Mr Chui agreed that drugs' generic names should be included on packaging, since this would allow pharmacists to quickly identify the drug prescribed in emergency situations and would avoid delays in treatment.