A UK-registered pharmacist was struck off following a hearing conducted by the Fitness to Practise Committee of the UK’s General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). The Committee heard allegations relating to inadequate record keeping, inadequate staffing arrangements and permitting a non-qualified member of staff to operate the pharmacy in the absence of a responsible pharmacist.
The issues being considered by the Committee arose from two separate referrals.
The first referral related to the registrant’s role as both pharmacist and superintendent pharmacist of a pharmacy and concerned matters raised by a former colleague and the subsequent findings of an inspection carried out by the GPhC.
The second referral related to concerns that arose following a Care Quality Commission inspection.
In this article we primarily focus on the issues related to the first referral and consider the Irish position in relation to a pharmacist’s temporary absence from the pharmacy.
The registrant faced numerous allegations consequent on the dual referral in relation to his practise and conduct, some of which included:
- The failure to ensure that adequate dispensing records were kept
- The failure to make adequate arrangements for a responsible pharmacist to be in charge
- The failure to make any or any adequate record in the responsible pharmacist log
- While being the responsible pharmacist failed to record periods of absences from the pharmacy
- While being the responsible pharmacist allowed a non-qualified member of staff to run the pharmacy in his absence
- The failure to ensure the responsible pharmacist notice was visible and displayed the details of the relevant pharmacist
Absence of a pharmacist
The Committee heard that, during a 12-month period while the registrant was the owner and superintendent pharmacist of the pharmacy, a pharmacy technician was recorded as being the responsible pharmacist on three occasions and the pharmacy's director on two further occasions. The Committee found that, on balance, it was more likely than not that on those five occasions there had been no responsible pharmacist in charge of the business.
Sub-standard record keeping
During a three-month period in 2015, the Committee identified at least 13 instances where the registrant had signed in as the responsible pharmacist on duty but failed to sign out. The Committee also identified at least nine instances during a three-month period in 2015 where the registrant had signed in as the responsible pharmacist and had not signed out until signing in for his next shift.
The Committee was concerned by this repeated poor record-keeping by the registrant as it persisted over a long period and was not the result of an occasional error.
Ultimately, the Committee decided that the proven allegations amounted to misconduct and that the registrant presented a risk to public safety. In determining sanction, the Committee concluded that the registrant’s removal from the register was the appropriate and proportionate sanction.
The Irish position
Under Irish law, it is an offence to operate a retail pharmacy business other than in accordance with particular conditions. One such condition is that the sale and supply of medicinal products must be carried out by or under the personal supervision of a registered pharmacist at all times.
However, Irish law also provides that no offence is committed where a registered pharmaceutical assistant acts on behalf of a registered pharmacist during the temporary absence of the registered pharmacist.
Therefore, a registered pharmaceutical assistant is permitted to carry out the activity of a registered pharmacist in his or her temporary absence, insofar as the sale and supply of medicinal products in a retail pharmacy business are concerned. However, this does not permit the assistant to carry out the functions associated with the roles of superintendent and/or supervising pharmacists during temporary absences.
Interestingly, pharmaceutical assistants are not currently subject to fitness to practise regulation.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland is currently in the process of developing a set of rules that will govern the temporary absence of pharmacists from a pharmacy. The current draft of these rules clearly define the period of time of such an absence and the permitted activities that may be carried out by a pharmaceutical assistant when acting on behalf of a pharmacist during a temporary absence. Once published, these rules will be a welcome clarification of the role of pharmacy assistants during a pharmacist’s absence.