The High Court has considered supervision in pharmacies for the first time since 1952. The case, brought by Mohammed Abdul-Razzak [registration number 2078728] against the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), is also significant because it is the first time the High Court has considered the duties of responsible pharmacists.

The case was yet another which followed the BBC’s Inside Out programme, exposing pharmacies that made illegal sales of medicines without prescriptions. Mr Abdul-Razzak – a locum working at his first job as a pharmacist – was the responsible pharmacist at Safeer Pharmacy in Edgware Road, London, and was on duty on three occasions in August 2012 when a counter assistant made sales of amoxicillin, diazepam and Viagra to a reporter.

Mr Abdul-Razzak claimed he knew nothing about the unlawful supplies, but was found guilty of misconduct by the GPhC’s fitness-to-practise committee and suspended for six months in October 2015.

The GPhC had alleged that Mr Abdul-Razzak failed to adequately supervise the counter assistant, thereby permitting the unlawful supplies to be made. On one occasion, Mr Abdul-Razzak had been caught on camera near to where the assistant had been speaking about medication with a BBC reporter, and the fitness-to-practise committee found that Mr Abdul-Razzak must have been aware of the conversation. However, Mr Abdul-Razzak did not take any interest in what the assistant was saying or doing. The GPhC found this to be an "adequate lack of supervision".

Mr Abdul-Razzak appealed to the High Court against his suspension. The judge supported the committee's finding that “no observer of the scene would ever have thought that Mr Abdul-Razzak was supervising or trying to supervise, or exercising any authority over the assistant”.

In relation to a subsequent sale, Mr Abdul-Razzak's lawyer argued that he should not be considered guilty of misconduct because the counter assistant had deliberately directed him away from the dispensary when the medicine was supplied.

The judge said that a responsible pharmacist has “a policing duty…to ensure patient safety by supervising the supply and sale of prescription-only drugs”. The judge said that if the assistant had diverted a pharmacist’s attention away from where medicines were kept, this should have set alarm bells ringing, because it was the duty of a responsible pharmacist to supervise the activities of counter assistants.

Mr Abdul-Razzak should have intervened and asked what the counter assistant was doing, the judge concluded.

Supervision is a lynchpin of community pharmacy practice, but amid the hubbub over remuneration and hub-and-spoke dispensing, it has not yet attracted the attention it deserves.

You can read Mr Abdul-Razzak's original fitness-to-practise case here, and the High Court judgment here.

This article was first published in Chemist & Druggist, July 2016.