Pharmacists in Northern Ireland have demanded their regulator compensate the profession for £340,000 of overcharged fees.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI) wrote to all registrants on September 17 to say it may have overcharged 11 “specific groups” of pharmacists over the past 20 years. These include initial registration fees for pharmacists who qualified between 1995 and 2014, as well as fees for registration exams taken from 1997 onwards, it said.
But it did not consider it “appropriate or equitable” to refund the estimated £340,000, because the money had been used only to “legitimately pursue” PSNI goals. Paying back affected pharmacists would “adversely financially impact” on current and future registrants, it said. "The council does not regard this to be fair to the wider registrant population," the letter said.
PSNI told C+D it is "hard to estimate" how many registrants had been overcharged.
Pharmacists who spoke to C+D demanded that the regulator make amends to anyone affected. Eleanor Hutchinson, superintendent of O’Brien’s Pharmacy in County Londonderry, told C+D that it is “unfair” that certain groups have been accidentally "penalised". She called for the negotiator to be “monitored” to ensure it did not overcharge fees in future.
Jonathon Clarke, owner of Northern Ireland locum agency Locate a Locum Now, said his initial reaction to PSNI's letter was “pure disappointment”. Overcharged pharmacists are “entitled to a refund”, he stressed.
A pharmacy manager, who wished to remain anonymous, said he felt “deceived” by PSNI. The organisation had no basis for refusing to pay back overcharged fees, the manager added.
In its letter to registrants, PSNI said its 2014-15 review of fees had revealed some charges to registrants had not been consistent with government regulations. It admitted the situation is “clearly unacceptable”, but after “serious consideration” – which included seeking legal advice – it had decided not to pay back any overcharged fees, it said.
PSNI said it had taken "immediate and robust" action to make amends. It will “imminently” publish a consultation that will set out the “statutory basis” for future fees, it said in the letter. It had also assigned staff to deal with written queries from anyone who believes they have been affected, it added.
Pharmacists can send queries to Fees Queries, 73 University Street, Belfast, BT7 1HL, or via email to [email protected].
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