Pharmacist incorrectly prescribed ‘abortive agent’ to pregnant woman, inquiry hears

A Dublin pharmacist incorrectly dispensed medication that can terminate a pregnancy to a pregnant woman who had suffered multiple miscarriages, an inquiry into his conduct has heard.

Donal O’Donovan, who worked as a locum pharmacist at Corrigan’s pharmacy, Malahide road in Clontarf, Dublin 3, accepted the facts of the case and did not contest the “seriousness” of the allegations.

A fitness to practise hearing by the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI) began on Thursday. It was held virtually due to the pandemic.

The statutory inquiry heard that the woman, referred to as Patient A, attended Corrigan’s pharmacy on June 10th, 2018, to have a prescription for aspirin and cyclogest, a progesterone medication, dispensed.

Patient A (34) had just discovered she was pregnant following multiple miscarriages and was advised by her consultant Karen Flood to begin taking the medication as soon as possible, in order to minimise the risk of another.

However, Mr O’Donovan said he misread the prescription and instead dispensed cytotec, which is used to treat stomach ulcers, and can be used off-licence as an abortive agent.

Patient A took the drug, as prescribed, for two days. She and her partner discovered a warning on the medication on the second day, which stated that those taking the medication should not operate heavy machinery.

She returned to the pharmacy to question if she had received the correct medication.

The supervising pharmacist, Eamon Fitzgerald, who had not been at work when it was given to her, confirmed that the wrong medication had been dispensed.

He advised Patient A to attend the emergency department. She attended the Rotunda hospital, where she spoke with a midwife and her consultant Dr Flood, with whom she then had regular check ups.

In her statement, read out by Hugh McDowell, the counsel for the registrar, patient A said: “I was devastated. It was awful. I was of the view that if I continued to take it . . . I would have lost the baby.”

Patient A subsequently gave birth to a healthy baby.

Three allegations were put to Mr O’Donovan: the supply of medication otherwise than in accordance with the prescription and in a manner that was not clinically appropriate; a failure to counsel the patient; and a failure to adequately review the prescription.

‘Red flag’

In her expert testimony, Helena Buchanan, a pharmacist, said the prescribing of cytotec for a woman of this age is a “red flag”.

She said that the incident reaches the threshold of seriousness required by law because it is “not clinically appropriate” to give a woman of child-bearing age cytotec.

She added that the three allegations together, and separately, “meet the mark” for poor professional performance.

In his statement, Mr O’Donovan said he was “devastated” by the error.

“This is a dispensing error by me. I am extremely disappointed in myself. I regret this error and I’m sorry,” he said.

His counsel, Helen Callanan SC, confirmed that the allegations are admitted and that they constitute poor professional performance, as outlined in the act.

However, she said that her client “respectfully” asked the committee to consider dealing with the matter by way of undertaking.

The PSI’s professional misconduct committee retired to consider its position.

The hearing will resume on Friday morning.