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Pharmacist slapped with 12-month suspension for illegal supply of 2m pills

A pharmacist has been suspended for 12 months by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) for the illegal wholesale supply of almost two million tablets of prescription drugs.

Darren Lee Kellett, registration number 2037011, was handed the year-long suspension at a fitness-to-practise (FtP) hearing held last month (March 20 and 21) via remote video link.

The regulator’s FtP committee heard how Mr Kellett was convicted at York Crown Court on May 12 last year of four counts of supplying various Class C controlled drugs on various dates between January 2014 and April 2016, contrary to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

The drugs were diazepam, zopiclone, nolpidem and nitrazepam, according to a determination document published this week.

Read more: UK gang members jailed for part in illegal sale of prescription meds worth £3.7m

Mr Kellett is currently serving a sentence of 24 months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months on all four counts and to be served concurrently, the committee heard.
 
But he has also been working as a locum pharmacist since the High Court revoked an interim suspension on his practice in July 2020, it heard.
 
The regulator accepted that there was “no evidence” of actual or potential harm to the public as a result of Mr Kellett’s actions and that there have been “no further concerns” about his conduct or practice.
 
But it stressed that his “unlawful behaviour was not a one-off” and “involved a vast quantity of controlled drugs”.

 

Criminal conviction

 

Mr Kellett’s conviction was the result of an investigation by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) into his supplying of wholesale Class C controlled drugs, the GPhC said.

The FtP committee heard how Mr Kellett should have held both a wholesale distributors authorisation (human) licence (WDA (H)) and a Home Office controlled drugs licence (HOCDL) to wholesale any class C controlled drug, but that he only had the former, it added.

There had been “no suggestion that had Mr Kellett applied for the HOCDL, it would not have been granted”, the regulator said.

Mr Kellett “stated that a version of the WDA(H) that the MHRA supplied in May 2014 essentially authorised him to supply various narcotic and/or psychotropic drugs, including those listed in the indictment”, it added.

Read more: GPhC strikes off pharmacist for supplying zolpidem on black market

Although the MHRA’s position was that this was supplied “in error”, Mr Kellet’s “initial position” was that he “believed he was allowed to wholesale controlled drugs during the relevant time” and “that he had not realised he was required to hold a HOCDL as well”, it said.
 
But during cross-examination, he “admitted that he was made aware that he did not hold the correct licence(s) to wholesale controlled drugs during an inspection”, the regulator said.
 
It added that Mr Kellett had confirmed by email on April 3, 2015 that he had “printed off the list of all the drugs currently controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act legislation” and that “none [would] be stocked” due to the lack of HOCDL required to wholesale them.
 
 
However, the “prosecution identified that Mr Kellett had made wholesale supplies between April and September 2015, almost on a monthly basis, despite knowing that at that point he was not allowed to do so without the HOCDL”, the GPhC noted.
 
The illegal supplies amounted to 70,000 boxes – or almost two million tablets – of the class C controlled drugs, it added.
 
Mr Kellett pleaded guilty to all four counts but his sentence was reduced by the judge because of “delays in the MHRA’s investigation”, according to the FtP determination document.
 
 
His suspended sentence is due to expire on May 12 next year, it said.
 
During his sentencing, the judge said that it would be “unconscionable after such a length of time for me to send you away”, according to the GPhC.
 
However, the judge added that the offence “does clearly cross the custody threshold” as “this was a lot of trading when you knew you should have got a Home Office licence and you would have got one”, it said.

 

“No evidence of harm”

 

At the FtP hearing last month, the regulator found that there was “no evidence of either actual or potential harm to patients or the public” due to Mr Kellett’s unlawful wholesale supply of drugs.

Another mitigating feature of the case was that Mr Kellett “pleaded guilty at trial and made full admissions at the outset” of the FtP hearing, the determination said.

It added that the “underlying actions occurred within the period 2014-2016, since when there have been no further concerns about Mr Kellett’s conduct or pharmacy practice”.

Read more: Watchdog ‘not yet assured’ GPhC has fixed fitness-to-practise concerns

“Mr Kellett has been a registered pharmacist since 1990 and, aside from an unrelated matter in 2009 in which misconduct but not impairment was found, has an otherwise unblemished regulatory record,” it said.
 
The committee heard how Mr Kellett had “done all the groundwork” to obtain the HOCDL including having a secure room and upgrading the alarm but that “life and work got in the way” and he failed to send the application in.
 
It also heard that his testimonials showed “remorse” and “comprehensive and detailed insight” and that he had “remedied his actions” by surrendering his WDA(H) in March 2016, “long before he knew of any criminal proceedings against him”.

 

“Reputation of the profession brought into disrepute”

 

But it stressed that Mr Kellett was “convicted of a serious criminal offence” resulting in a custodial sentence – albeit a suspended one – that “directly relates” to his practice as a pharmacist.

“We consider that Mr Kellett, by his serious criminal actions in the course of his work as a pharmacist, has brought the reputation of the profession into disrepute,” the GPhC said.

It added that Mr Kellett’s “unlawful behaviour was not a one-off but occurred over an extended period involving a vast quantity of controlled drugs” and was a “sustained breach of trust”.

And it said that his “dishonesty” – with Mr Kellett continuing to supply the drugs after he knew he was not permitted to do so – “might have continued had he not been subject to an MHRA investigation”.

Read more: Will regulatory reforms make fitness-to-practise processes swifter and fairer?

The GPhC said that it accepted he “has not shown a lack of integrity since the timeframe covered by the convictions”, but that it was “not persuaded by Mr Kellett’s explanations of his actions”.
 
It found an “inconsistency” between a statement he made last month that “his actions were never for personal gain” and his admission under cross-examination in court that he was “just unfortunately selling off…the remaining stock that I had to sell” after becoming aware that he was unauthorised to supply the drugs, it added.
 
The GPhC said it was “not an easy matter” due to the case’s “highly unusual features” – including that Mr Kellett had been practising “without concern” for nearly three years since July 2020 as a locum pharmacist despite serving his sentence.
 
It also admitted that “there was error and delay on the part of the MHRA and also a failure on the part of the Council to escalate matters in response to the delays”.

 

Immediate suspension

 

The regulator ruled that Mr Kellett’s fitness to practise is “currently impaired” and that his “integrity cannot be relied upon” as of the date of the hearing.

But it emphasised that “this is not a once and for all-time finding”.

The regulator decided to suspend Mr Kellett for 12 months, with a review to take place before the end of that period, saying it “would be wholly disproportionate” to remove him from the register entirely since he would be unable to reapply to join until 12 years after the unlawful activities in 2028.

However, removal from the register “would have been a highly likely outcome had the matter come before [the regulator] at a much earlier date, closer to the time of the underlying unlawful activity”, it said.

Read more: Fitness-to-practise: Your guide to interim orders

Instead, suspension was “required to highlight to the profession and the public that Mr Kellett’s unlawful activities were unacceptable and unbefitting a member of the pharmacy profession” and public confidence in the profession “demanded no lesser sanction”, it added.
 
The sanction is appealable and will not take effect until April 18 or until any appeal is concluded, the GPhC said.
 
However, an interim suspension took effect immediately and will remain in force until April 18 or any appeal concludes, it added.
 
The GPhC said that the “seriousness of the criminal conviction, involving the unlawful supply of a vast quantity of controlled drugs”, meant that public confidence would be “seriously undermined” if it did not impose an interim measure.
 
Read the full determination here

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