The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) could potentially take action against any pharmacists involved in the Pharmacy2U data-selling scandal, a lawyer has said.
The regulator announced last week that its “key priority” is to investigate the sale of patient information by the online business, and lawyer Noel Wardle told C+D the GPhC is more likely to target pharmacists employed by the company than to pursue the business directly.
Mr Wardle, partner at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys, stressed that it is “too early to say” what action – if any – the GPhC will take against Pharmacy2U, which was last month fined £130,000 by the information commissioner.
The company has “sincerely apologised” for the “regrettable incident”, which in 2014 saw the names and addresses of 21,500 Pharmacy2U patients sold via a third party to three companies, including a lottery company that a government watchdog claimed had “deliberately targeted elderly and vulnerable individuals”.
Potential code of ethics breaches
Mr Wardle said the GPhC would normally focus its investigation on whether any pharmacist working for the company had breached the regulator’s code of ethics. “It has on occasion taken action against a company as well as an [individual], but that’s pretty rare,” he said.
The GPhC’s Standards for Conduct, Ethics and Performance require pharmacists to “never disclose confidential information without consent unless required to do so by law”. If the GPhC found Pharmacy2U had breached this code, “you would expect it to take that seriously”, Mr Wardle said.
Any action the regulator decided to take would depend on whether the sale of patient data was premeditated or done for financial gain, as well as “what procedures were in place [and] what the consequences were”, he said.
Mr Wardle added that the regulator could in theory remove Pharmacy2U from the register, although he was not aware of a company being penalised in this way in the past six years, since the GPhC took over regulation from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB).