In the third of our series on fitness-to-practise learnings, solicitor Ravi Gupta explains why a pharmacist filmed selling antibiotics over the counter avoided removal from the register
When William Shakespeare wrote "Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination. There's money for thee…" in King Lear, he probably did not anticipate that, almost four centuries later, fulfilling such a request could result in the ‘apothecary' being subjected to both criminal and fitness-to-practise proceedings.*
In today's environment, there is no tolerance of healthcare professionals who fail to meet the required standards. They are coming under ever-increasing scrutiny from the media, and covert recordings and whistleblowing have become commonplace in investigating alleged wrongdoing.
A highly publicised case of a media investigation was that of Ghanshyam Kanji Hirani, registration number 2026341, who, together with six other pharmacy professionals, was the subject of a 2012 BBC exposé on illegal medicine sales.
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Mr Hirani was covertly filmed selling amoxicillin without a prescription and prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service. He pleaded guilty to selling a prescription-only medicine without a prescription from an appropriate practitioner and was fined £750.
Although he had received a conviction and fine, the outcome of the fitness-to-practise proceedings before the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) was potentially more serious. Mr Hirani faced the possibility of being struck off – particularly because his fitness-to-practise had previously been called into question.
However, following submissions from his defence team, the GPhC panel treated Mr Hirani's misconduct as a single isolated incident. Taking into account positive testimonials from colleagues and customers, the GPhC decided to impose a 12-month suspension on Mr Hirani's registration rather than striking him off the register.
A number of learning points arise from this case:
● Registrants should be mindful that their practices may come under scrutiny and therefore their behaviour and practices must be appropriate and in accordance with the law, local standards and their regulatory body's standards at all times
● If criminal prosecution and conviction occur, this is likely to result in a referral to the professional's regulator
● It is likely that a regulatory body panel will take into account a registrant's fitness-to-practise history
● Fitness-to-practise panels recognise that admissions at an early stage can help demonstrate a registrant's insight and remorse. Any admissions made, however, need to be carefully considered and it is therefore imperative for professionals facing criminal or fitness-to-practise proceedings to seek legal advice at an early stage
● Positive testimonial references can help to persuade a panel to impose a lesser sanction.
*I should point out that this would only be of concern if: (i) civet was a prescription-only medicine; and (ii) King Lear didn't have a prescription – but I rather liked the quote!
Ravi Gupta is an associate for health and social care law firm Hempsons, which specialises in advising and defending practitioners with a wide range of issues including regulatory and criminal proceedingsOther articles in the FTP lessons series