On 3 July 2019, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal found pharmacist, Danny Paul Agnola guilty of professional misconduct after he dispensed a prescription for 100 Ritalin tablets without authority and later stole those tablets, consuming 10 of them.
Mr Agnola's application for a non-publication order was rejected by the Tribunal.
Mr Agnola was employed as a casual pharmacist at a Brisbane pharmacy working one Sunday every four weeks. It was in that position that, on 20 November 2016 at 5pm, Mr Agnola dispensed a prescription for 100 Ritalin tablets, 10 milligrams, for a 10-year old child. Neither the child nor his parent or guardian had requested that medication be dispensed. The medication was taken from the controlled drug safe and entered into the controlled drug register and the medication dispensed and placed in the pharmacy dispensary.
At 6:04pm, the respondent placed the medication into a paper bag and took the medication home for personal use. The respondent consumed 10 of the 100 tablets over the following three days. The respondent's employer became aware of the discrepancy and on 28 November 2016 met with the respondent who made admissions. The respondent was dismissed from his employment with the pharmacy. The following day, he returned the 90 unused Ritalin tablets to the pharmacy together with his keys.
In interviews with his employer and Office of Health Ombudsman staff, the respondent revealed he had dispensed the medication to the child's father for the child, noticing that the prescription would shortly expire. The respondent stated that he had initially processed the prescription to stay ahead of his work, but subsequently decided to take the Ritalin for himself to cope with the pressures of another job.
The respondent further stated he decided to stop taking Ritalin because the other work had been finalised and he had no intention to take any more tablets or to give any of the medication to other people.
Categorisation of Conduct
Both parties submitted, and the Tribunal agreed, that the practitioner's conduct amounted to professional misconduct. The unauthorised dispensation of Schedule 8 drugs is a breach of a central tenet of the pharmacy profession which constitutes a serious breach of public and employment trust.
Regarding the issue of sanction, the Tribunal noted disciplinary proceedings are protective not punitive in nature. In the exercise of the protective jurisdiction, the Tribunal may take into account the maintenance of professional standards, the preservation of public confidence in the medical profession, and the need to deter the respondent and also other health practitioners from engaging in like conduct.
The parties jointly submitted, and the Tribunal agreed, that an appropriate sanction would be a reprimand. Relevant considerations included the respondent's insight and remorse in making early and full and frank admissions to his conduct and his cooperation with investigations; the respondent's conduct was a one-off occurrence and that he had no notifications other than this matter; the respondent suffered real consequences as a result of his misconduct by being dismissed from his employment; and, his compliance with conditions imposed on his registration by the Pharmacy Board of Australia.
The respondent applied for a non-publication order pursuant to s 66 of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2009 (Qld) submitting that it was in the interests of justice that the respondent's identity be the subject of non-publication.
The respondent submitted that he would suffer the consequence of embarrassment of publication of his misconduct to a greater degree than most pharmacists because of the nature of his current employment. The respondent is currently employed in a non-clinical role which makes presentations to pharmacy groups and other health practitioners and causes the respondent to be scrutinised by other pharmacists and other health practitioners much more often than a pharmacist in a clinical role in a pharmacy. The respondent submitted he would suffer extra-curial punishment such that any publication would have a punitive effect.
The Tribunal rejected the respondent's application for a non-publication order on the basis the criteria for justifying such an order are exhaustively stated in s 66(2) of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2009 (Qld) and none were made out. The factor of deterrence in maintenance of ethical standards by health practitioners that is sought by an order of a reprimand would be removed or weakened by such an order, would not be desirable and that it is not in the public interest, nor in the interests of justice, that a non-publication order be made.
- The Tribunal made the following orders:
- The Tribunal decides, pursuant to s 107(2)(b)(iii) of the Health Ombudsman Act 2013 (Qld), that the respondent has behaved in a way that constitutes professional misconduct.
- Pursuant to s 107(3)(a) of the Health Ombudsman Act 2013 (Qld), the respondent is reprimanded.
- Each party bear their own costs.
- The application for a non-publication order is refused.