Overworked pharmacist's error led to death of grandmother who died from the ‘wrong pills'

Pharmacist Martin White leaves Antrim Court. Picture by Alan Lewis-
Pharmacist Martin White leaves Antrim Court. Picture by Alan Lewis-

AN “OVERWORKED” pharmacist made a tragic error and dispensed the wrong pills to a grandmother who became ill within moments and later died, a court heard on Tuesday.

Martin White (45), of Belfast Road, Muckamore, Co Antrim, admitted giving the wrong prescription to  Ethna Walsh (67) on February 6, 2014.

Michael Chambers, prosecuting, told Antrim Crown Court that Mrs Walsh had gone with her husband Joe to the Clear Pharamacy on Antrim’s Station Road and handed over her prescription for COPD medication, prednisolone.

Mr Chambers told Judge Gordon Kerr QC that instead of picking up the drug, White picked up a box of propranolol.

Back at home Mr Walsh gave his wife some of the tablets. Within moments she had difficulty breathing and became unwell. He immediately phoned for an ambulance. She was taken to hospital but later died.

Mr Chambers said White later told police that he “must have mistakenly picked up the propranolol instead of the prednisolone”. He said the two boxes were “side by side on the shelf and have similar branding”.

White claimed to have carried out the required checks under the pharamacy standard operation procedures.

He had also complained of the “cramped working space” and said that at the time he had been to his own GP about his feelings of low mood, tiredness and fatigue.

An expert who later examined what happened said accuracy checks should have been carried out but were not and this led to the error.

However, the expert deemed White guilty only of “poor professional performance” as opposed to “professional misconduct”.

John Kearney QC, defending, revealed that since Mrs Walsh’s death White has been too frightened to return to work because he is “racked with guilt” and has been receiving psychiatric help.

Mr Kearney said White had expressly instructed him “to offer his abject apology to each and every member of Mrs Walsh’s family...although he accepts it may not be very well received”.

Earlier Mr Kearney described White as a man with previously unblemished character and said the tragic consequences of his mistake had left him “destroyed with remorse”.

White, Mr Kearney said, was acutely aware that he was responsible for Mrs Walsh’s death “and will carry it for the rest of his life, and if he could turn the clock back he would”.

Mr Kearney suggested that White made his mistake because he was “an ordinary man who struggled because he worked too hard... regularly working up to 60 hours a week... always on call”.

“This is his first mistake after almost a quarter of a century, 24 years of employment,” Mr Kearney said.

The judge will sentence White later in December.