Specials manufacturers are offering to illegally create false NHS invoices in an effort to maintain competitive prices for pharmacists, C+D has learned.
And pharmacists who collaborated with the practice faced prison, legal experts warned.
Several sources have reported that manufacturers had suggested forging documents to claim that pharmacists had bought specials at a higher price than they actually paid, as a means to offer rebates under England and Wales' specials tariff.
PSNC first warned contractors against this practice last month and Silver Levene accountant Umesh Modi and the Association of Pharmaceutical Specials Manufacturers (APSM) told C+D this week that they were also aware of the issue.
"I've had two or three callers recently trying to seek advice on how they can claim and I say: 'Sorry, I can't give you advice because this is fraudulent'" Umesh Modi, Silver Levene
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Mr Modi said he was fielding calls from clients who had received these offers from manufacturers attempting to bypass the specials tariff, introduced in November 2011, which prevented them from being able to offer rebates on specials.
"I've had two or three callers recently trying to seek advice on how they can claim and I say: 'Sorry, I can't give you advice because this is fraudulent'," Mr Modi said, stressing that contractors should avoid making any inaccurate claims.
The APSM, which has 16 specials manufacturers in its membership, said it had heard also reports of the practice, stressing that it went against its members' code of conduct and that any formal complaints would be followed up with an investigation.
PSNC strongly advised contractors to avoid all dealings with the manufacturers involved.
Noel Wardle, partner at law firm Charles Russell, warned that if pharmacists agreed to collaborate it would result in hefty professional sanctions and possible imprisonment.
Mr Wardle stressed that pharmacists found to be defrauding the NHS would face heavy penalties. "In my experience, where pharmacists are found guilty of fraud, because it involves public money, they tend to be treated quite strictly by the courts and might expect a custodial sentence," he told C+D.
The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) was equally likely to come down hard on pharmacists, Mr Wardle warned. "Fitness-to-practise committees have long stated that dishonesty is at the top end of the spectrum in the seriousness of allegations," he said. "The consequences of [proven dishonesty] are, in my experience, very serious and very often, it results in removal from the register."
In its guidance on fitness-to-practise sanctions, the GPhC identifies dishonesty as one of the reasons to consider removing professionals from the register.
A specials tariff came into effect in Scotland last month, designed by Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS) and the Scottish government. Manufacturer IPS Specials raised concerns at the time that it could cause an extra administrative burden for pharmacists.
Have you heard of a specials manufacturer offering to create a fraudulent NHS invoice for you or a colleague?