Objectives To establish the nature of medication errors occurring within community pharmacy and analyse common error patterns. To identify factors which influence the occurrence of medication errors and near misses, with the intention of designing systems or strategies to reduce the occur- rence of these events. Setting Fifteen community pharmacies situated within Brighton and Hove City Primary Care Trust, East Sussex, between January and March 2004. Method A self-reporting form was designed, piloted and administered to pharmacists, which gathered information on the detection of an error or near miss in the dispensing process. Key findings One-hundred and thirteen near misses and thirty-two medication errors were reported. The majority of near misses were detected by the pharmacist at the final check, and the majority of medication errors were detected by the patient or patient’s representative. Selection errors were most common, with similar drug names and packaging cited as the main contributory factors. ‘Business’ was frequently cited as the circumstance surrounding the error. Conclusion This study demonstrates that pharmacists do have an important part to play and the positive impact of community pharmacists in pre venting, detecting and correcting errors and thus preventing harm to patients in the primary care setting. However, medicati on errors do occur, and therefore a multifactorial approach by manufacturers, marketing and packaging personnel, in addi- tion to input from pharmacists, may be an effective permanent solution in reducing the errors made.