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Woman died after 'overworked' Northern Ireland pharmacist give her wrong drugs, court hears

An 'overworked' pharmacist in Northern Ireland made a tragic error and gave out the wrong pills to a grandmother who took ill within moments and later died, a court has heard.

The 45-year-old pharmacist Martin White, of Belfast Road, Muckamore, on the outskirts of Antrim, admitted filling out the wrong perscription for 67-year-old Ethna Walsh on February 6, 2014.

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

He added that back at home Mr Walsh gave his wife some of the tablets which she took, but within moments had difficulty in breathing and became unwell. He immediately phoned for an ambulance, and although rushed to hospital she later died.

Mr Chambers said that White later told the police that he "must have mistakenly picked up the Propranolol instead of the Prednisolone", adding that the two boxes were "side by side on the shelf and have similar branding".

The court heard that while White claimed that he had carried out the required checks under the pharamacy Standard Operation Procedures, he'd also complained of the "cramped working space", and 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 had happened said that accuracy checks should have been carried out but weren't and this led to the tragic error.

However the expert deemed that White was guilty only of "poor professional performance" as opposed to "professional misconduct".

Defence QC John Kearney revealed that since the tragedy White has been too frightened to return to work because he was so racked with guilt 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".

Earlier the defence lawyer had described White as a man with a hither to unblemished character and said that the tragic consequences of his mistake had left him "racked with guilt and destroyed with remorse".

White, Mr Kearney said was accutely aware that he was responsible for the tragedy "and will carry it for the rest of his life, and if he could turn the clock back he would".

Mr Kearney suggested that what had happened occured because White was "and 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," said Mr Kearney.

Judge Kerr adjourned sentencing until later in the month given the importance of the case.

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