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Pharmacist who gave out the 'wrong pills' sentenced

Martin White. Picture by Alan Lewis, Photopress 

AN 'OVERWORKED' pharmacist who gave out the wrong tablets which later killed an elderly woman, has walked free from court today after his jail term was suspended.

Martin White (45) of Belfast Road, Muckamore, Co Antrim, was sentenced at Antrim Crown Court.

He had admitted filling out the wrong prescription for Ethna Walsh on February 6 2014, who later died in hospital.

His four-month jail term was suspended for two years.

It is believed to be the first case of its kind in Northern Ireland.

In the wake of the tragedy the family of 67-year-old grandmother Mrs Walsh called on community pharmacists to learn lessons from her "unnecessary death" and ensure medicines were dispensed properly.

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".

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 also 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, a much loved wife, mother and grandmother, had a devastating effect on her family.

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

Judge Kerr said the damage and injury caused by the pharmacist of 24 years, who earned up to £40,000 but now lives 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".

Judge Kerr added that given 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.

Prosecution barrister Michael Chambers told an earlier hearing that Mrs Walsh had gone with her husband Joe to the Clear Pharamacy on Antrim's Station Road.

However, instead of being given the steroid medicine Prednisolone, she was mistakenly given a box of Propranolol.

Mr Chambers said once home Mrs Walsh took some of the tablets, but within moments had difficulty breathing. Although rushed to hospital, she later died.

A tired and fatigued White later claimed that in his "cramped working space ... he must have mistakenly picked up" the tablets which were side by side on the shelf and have similar branding.

Defence QC John Kearney revealed that since the tragedy White has been too frightened, "frozen in fear" to return to work, and was "racked with guilt and destroyed with remorse" and has been receiving psychiatric help.

Mr Kearney said that 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".

Mr Kearney suggested that what had happened occurred because White was "an ordinary man who struggled because he worked too hard" but that it "was a single mistake in 24 years of doing this job day in, day out, week in, week out... dispensing thousands of perscriptions".

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