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‘Overwhelmed’ locum suspended for four months over codeine payment mix-up

A locum pharmacist has been suspended for four months for removing bottles of codeine linctus from two pharmacies where he was working “without paying for them”, the regulator has said.

The General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC) fitness-to-practise (FtP) committee made the ruling at hearings held on March 13-16 and June 6-8. 

It heard that Abdalla Mohammed Abdallo, registration number 2083625, was working as a locum responsible pharmacist at Tuebrook Pharmacy in Liverpool on October 27, 2020, and at Upton Pharmacy in Widnes on October 28, 2020, when he left both pharmacies with bottles of codeine linctus. 

Read more: FtP: GPhC takes action in six online pharmacy cases over less than a year

Mr Abdallo had asked staff at both pharmacies to order the medicines but left at the end of his shift “without paying for them”, although he disputed this allegation, according to a determination document.

In making its judgement, the GPhC noted that it should take "delays in bringing a case to hearing” into account and that Mr Abdallo has already has been suspended on an interim basis from practicing for the “majority” of two years.

 

“Stressed and overwhelmed”

 

Mr Abdallo faced allegations that he ordered four bottles of codeine linctus at each pharmacy and left without paying for them, and that he acted dishonestly in doing so.

But he disputed the particulars of the allegations, saying that he only ordered two bottles at each pharmacy and he believed that he had paid for the bottles.

However, he conceded that the “significant stress” that he was under at the time due to “personal and family” issues meant that he was “not sure” that he had paid. 

Read more: 'Dishonest' pharmacist suspended for working two jobs at the same time

He said that the medication was used to assist an unwell family member and that it wasn’t his intention to leave without paying.

He stated at the hearing that he believed that he had paid for the medication, although he said that “family issues” at the time had left him too “stressed and overwhelmed” to remember with certainty if he had put money in the till.

At both pharmacies, he asked permission from pharmacy staff to order the codeine and did not place the orders himself, according to the document.

Read more: Pharmacy technician found with ‘indecent images of children’ struck off

At Tuebrook Pharmacy, a witness said that Mr Abdallo had asked to order two bottles, in accordance with his account, although an invoice showed that four bottles had been ordered.

Although he had asked for two bottles, he said that the package, which he only opened later, contained four bottles, which he administered over two weeks.

At Upton Pharmacy, a witness said that he had asked to order six bottles, at odds with Mr Abdallo’s statement that he had asked for two bottles and an invoice stating that four bottles were ordered there too.

Mr Abdallo said that he thought he put money into the tills but that “due to COVID-19 at the time he did not do it the presence of colleagues”.

 

No contact from pharmacies 

 

The committee heard that Mr Abdallo did not contact the pharmacies to make amends either once he realised that he had taken four bottles instead of two on the first day or once the FtP process began.

But he said that after he left, the pharmacies did not contact him or ask him to pay for the bottles, adding that he “would have expected the pharmacy to contact him” if it was noticed that he had not paid.

Read more: Pharmacist suspended for nine months over online supply of high-risk drugs

He said that “the first he heard” about the matter was when the GPhC contacted him and that he had felt “isolated” with “no one to take advice from”.

And he added that he believed he was not allowed to contact the pharmacies to resolve the matter once the FtP process had begun, believing that “it would end when it was discovered that he had in fact paid”.

 

Dishonesty “not proved”

 

The committee accepted that Mr Abdallo had “very significant family matters pressing on his mind” that could explain why he had not paid for the codeine bottles and was unsure whether he had, as well as the fact that he “had not slept the night before and had not had breakfast”.

Read more: Use of ChatGPT in revalidation could trigger FtP case, GPhC warns

It also considered that it was “unlikely he would have intended not to pay for the products he ordered given that he asked permission to order them and the cost involved was small”.

As a result, the committee found that allegations of dishonesty against Mr Abdallo were “not proved”, however it sustained the allegations that he had removed the bottles of codeine without payment and therefore without permission.

 

“Remorse”

 

The committee found that Mr Abdallo’s misconduct was aggravated by his failure to “put right the problem” when he noticed that he had been given four bottles of codeine instead of two on the first day.

It also found that he had breached professional standards requiring that pharmacists should “say sorry, provide an explanation and put things right when things go wrong” by not “speaking up and clarifying the situation”.

Read more: Pharmacist struck off for illegitimate codeine supply after threats to family

Mr Abdallo said that he would have “tried to make amends for the error” after the GPhC contacted him if he had “more guidance, even from the Council”, according to the determination.

He added that he felt “remorse” and that this “misconduct” would not be repeated, “because in future, no matter what the issue, he would not intervene to assist a family member”.

 

“Appropriate and proportionate” sanction

 

The committee found that the proven facts were “serious” and Mr Abdallo’s removal of the codeine linctus “amounted to misconduct”.

The committee said that Mr Abdallo had “insufficient insight” into his misconduct and as a result it “could not be sure that it was highly unlikely to be repeated”. 

The committee “took into account” that for more than two years, Mr Abdallo has been “subject to interim orders” and that he has been suspended “for the majority of that time”.

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

But it determined that Mr Abdallo’s fitness to practise was impaired and that a suspension of four months was the “appropriate and proportionate” sanction.

It also imposed an interim suspension to take effect immediately until the “substantive order” came into force or any appeal concludes.

Mr Abdallo should attend a review before the end of his suspension where he would be expected to provide a reflective document showing “full insight into the seriousness of his misconduct” and evidence of further study or continuing professional development (CPD), according to the determination.

Read the determination in full here

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