LATEST: GPhC issues sanctions to Pharmacy2U directors

The hearings of Pharmacy2U's managing and commercial directors are taking place at the GPhC's headquarters

C+D reported live from the fitness-to-practise hearing as the regulator reached its verdict

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has suspended Pharmacy2U’s commercial director for three months for the company’s sale of patient data in 2014.

Julian Harrison (registration number 2039775) was found to have authorised the sale of patient data to third parties three times between October and December 2014, for which he said he was “deeply sorry”, the GPhC heard at a fitness-to-practise hearing held on Monday and Tuesday.

Chief operating officer Daniel Lee (registration number 2039891) was issued with a warning for his part in the data-selling incident. He failed to ensure robust procedures were in place on the company's website to allow patients to provide informed consent to the use of their names and addresses, the GPhC heard.

The regulator noted that Mr Lee’s actions were “less severe” than Dr Harrison’s, and accepted that he was unaware of the data sales until their details were published in the press last year.

Pharmacy2U "took immediate action"

Pharmacy2U CEO Neil Laycock told C+D the day after the hearing that the company had “fully cooperated” with the GPhC since the matter was brought to its attention in March 2015, and “took immediate action to ensure it could not happen again”.

The company is “sincerely sorry for any concern this incident caused”, and no medical information was ever shared, he stressed.

“While this was indeed a serious matter, it was an isolated incident and swift and comprehensive action was taken to rectify it by both individuals involved.  Lessons have been learned and the company has strengthened all aspects of its data governance,” he added.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) slapped Pharmacy2U with a £130,000 fine last October after it found the company had “unfairly” obtained the data, but accepted its breach of the Data Protection Act was accidental.

 

The hearing - as it happened



Day 1

09.30 - The hearing begins

Both Pharmacy2U chief operating officer Daniel Lee and commercial director Julian Harrison are present at the hearing, along with their legal representative.

The statement of facts of the hearing show that Pharmacy2U patient data was sold via third party marketing company Alchemy three times between October and December 2014, and each sale was approved by Dr Harrison.

According to the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC’s) legal representative in the case:

  • Prior to April 2015, Pharmacy2U’s privacy policy mentioned that the company would occasionally make patient details available to third party marketing companies.
     
  • Patients could choose to opt out of this by logging into their account and specifying that they didn’t want this to happen. This was not clearly signposted upon registration.
     
  • Data from 3,000 Pharmacy2U patients was supplied to an Australian lottery company.​
     
  • Dr Harrison approved an advert that would be sent to patients by the company giving them a “unique opportunity” to win millions of dollars. The lottery company’s deal with Alchemy specified that the patients had to be male and aged 70 or over.

It’s the turn of government privacy watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Officer (ICO) to give evidence. They state: 

  • Pharmacy2U’s privacy policy prior to April 2015 was “inadequate” if Pharmacy2U was planning on selling patient data. 21,500 patients were affected, although it’s possible that some were affected twice.
     
  • The rental of patient data to third party companies was for one-time use only.
     
  • No more data was sold by Pharmacy2U after December 2014.
     
  • The £130,000 fine issued by the ICO [last year for breaching the Data Protection Act] was paid promptly by Pharmacy2U.

 

11.30 - Pharmacy2U commercial director Julian Harrison gives his evidence

  • He had not been aware of any criticism of Pharmacy2U’s privacy policy prior to March 2015.
  • He was told by Alchemy that it was “normal” for companies to make money by selling some of their data.
  • He had not actively sought out a deal such as this, but it came about opportunistically, so he decided to go through with it.
  • He felt that he had taken care over the contract with Alchemy, especially regarding confidentiality clauses and specifying that the data sold could only be used by companies once.


Dr Harrison expresses "deep regret"

  • It is “with deep regret” that he didn’t turn his attention to Pharmacy2U’s privacy policy after the deal with Alchemy went through. “It just wasn’t something that came into my mind, I’m afraid…I accept it was a serious omission”.
     
  • Dr Harrison said he would have thought differently about the situation if he had sought legal advice. It is “entirely possible” he would have chosen not to proceed with the deal if he had known of the ramifications.


Swayed by Alchemy

  • He maintains that he was not aware the deal with the Australian lottery company required all the data to relate to male patients aged 70 or over, and wouldn’t have permitted the deal if he had known.
     
  • He “wasn’t keen” on selling data to the Australian lottery company, but felt he was “swayed” by Alchemy.
     
  • As soon as the issue gained press attention last year, Pharmacy2U immediately contacted the ICO and the GPhC. It will not sell third party data again.
     
  • The ramifications of selling the data weren’t “by design” – the company made a mistake which it “deeply regrets”.


Three patients responded

  • Pharmacy2U found that three of its patients had responded to the advert from the Australian lottery company, each paying £10.
     
  • He is “deeply sorry” for his actions.
     
  • Dr Harrison says he does not believe that it is never acceptable for pharmacists to sell patient information. But they must be informed properly and have the option to opt out, he says.

 14.20 Pharmacy2U chief operating officer Daniel Lee speaks:

  • What happened was a “mistake”
     
  • He assures the GPhC that “this will never happen again”, and apologises on behalf of himself and the company.
     
  • He was not directly involved in selling the data, he says.
     
  • If he could “turn the clock back” then Pharmacy2U would not have sold the patient data.
     
  • The company has since made the language in its privacy policy clearer.
     
  • “We are putting in huge barriers” to ensure there is a culture change at the company after this incident.
     
  • “It’s been a terribly distressing time.”
     
  • “We regret it wholeheartedly.”

Further notes from day one of the hearing

A lawyer acting on behalf of the GPhC told the hearing:

  • Pharmacy2U chief operating officer Daniel Lee and commercial director Julian Harrison’s conduct should be considered individually by the council, not collectively.
     
  • The misuse of patient data is “serious” and goes to the heart of the relationship of trust between healthcare professionals and patients.
     
  • Aggravating factor: the Australian lottery company specified to Alchemy that they wanted data from male patients aged 70 and over, so were arguably targeting the vulnerable and elderly.
     
  • Mr Lee’s failure was to secure the interests of patients.
     
  • But there is no evidence he knew about the sale of patient data.
     
  • Dr Harrison’s conduct was worse, because he was directly responsible for this sale. “He put profit before the interests of patients”.

 

Day two

13.30 - We hear from the fitness-to-practise committee

  • Both registrants admitted the allegations against them. Therefore, the allegations were found to be proven by the committee.
     
  • It found both Daniel Lee and Julian Harrison to be truthful witnesses.
     
  • The sale of patient data was serious because it was “so far at odds” with what patients would have expected to be done with their information.
     
  • The committee accepted that Mr Lee was unaware of the sale of patient data until the details were published in the press last year.
     
  • He has clearly expressed remorse and has shown insight into his actions.
     
  • Mr Lee's actions were “less severe” than Dr Harrison’s. Mr Lee has shown fuller insight into his actions and has taken a lead role in transforming Pharmacy2U’s policy and culture around information governance.
     
  • Mr Lee’s fitness to practise is not currently impaired, but the committee could still issue him with a warning.
     
  • Dr Harrison’s actions were not sufficiently informed by his role as a pharmacist, although the committee accepts he has played a full part in putting his actions right.
     
  • Dr Harrison's fitness to practise is currently impaired, so the committee will consider imposing sanctions on him.

 

GPhC’s lawyer gives his position to the committee:

  • It would be too lenient for the committee to issue Dr Harrison with a warning. His behaviour has been “very much worse” than Mr Lee’s.
     
  • It would be inappropriate for the committee to place conditions on his registration because there are no appropriate conditions to impose.
     
  • Suspension would be the “appropriate” sanction for Dr Harrison.
     

Pharmacy2U’s lawyer gives her position to the committee:

  • The committee should issue advice to Mr Lee rather than a warning.
     
  • It should issue Dr Harrison with a warning because a suspension is unnecessary.

16.30 - Final GPhC determination

The committee has decided:

  • To impose a warning on Daniel Lee.
     
  • To suspend Julian Harrison for three months.
     
  • A warning was “not sufficiently strong” for Dr Harrison, but removal from the register was disproportionate.

For the latest from the hearing, see C+D Deputy features editor Beth Kennedy's live coverage here 

58 Comments
Question: 
What do you think about the case?

Simon MEDLEY, Community pharmacist

it seems like now the dust has settled and they've got away virtually scot free ( in would be a bit like banning the admiral of the fleet from sailing a dingy for a few months), that they are bacvk to their old tricks of misleading mail shots.  Had 2 patients in this week alone wanting to know if they have to sign up for EPS and have their rx's delivered- whislt waving the p2u letter around..

 

s8chy P, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

shame on the GPHC for creating so much skepticism from its members

John Cleese, Production & Technical

Is it the fault of the GPhC - or are people forming hasty opinions before reading the facts of each case, and comparing apples with oranges?

Ben Merriman, Community pharmacist

Last November (http://www.chemistanddruggist.co.uk/news/pharmacist-suspensed-plundering-patient-records) a pharmacist was suspended for 12 months for viewing 31 patient records.  

On Tuesday a pharmacist was suspended for 3 months for selling 21k+ patient records.

Neither case can be defended and both should be punished.  My big problem is how the lengths of punishment were decided upon.  All we as pharmacists want is some sort of consistency.

John Cleese, Production & Technical

Why should there be any consistency, when the two cases are very different?

Ben Merriman, Community pharmacist

One individual abusing his position and using patient records for personal (nosiness) gain.  One individual abusing his position and using patient records for personal (financial) gain.

John Cleese, Production & Technical

Can you think of any ways in which the two cases were different? I suspect it was a bit more complicated than that.

Farm Assistant, Community pharmacist

You suspect or you know? The individual always gets screwed. The corporate never even gets charged and if it does just walks away with a slap on the wrist. 

Anonymous Anonymous, Information Technology

Nice little slap on the wrist there... But if a small independent dare do anything half as bad they'd be struck off faster than you could say "kickback"!

Paul Dishman, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Barely a slap on the wrist compared to the punishments handed out to individual pharmacists hung out to dry by the multiples, as Vikesh says, spineless

VIKESH PATEL, Community pharmacist

Only a three month suspension! How convenient. A three month vacation for breaching data protection on all fronts is a well deserved holiday and not a punishment.once again the GPhC have proven to be spineless. 

 

 

John Cleese, Production & Technical

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_emotion

VIKESH PATEL, Community pharmacist

interesting article, 

but doesnot apply from an incognito thing in the first place.

John Cleese, Production & Technical

What are you referring to? Which article? I don't understand your comment.

Ben E, Production & Technical

Well pointed out... Also they already served a punishment for the breach of data protection. It was a large fine which is par for the course with data protection breaches. Everything else they've been charged for in this particular hearing was relatively minor (not being up front enough with some contract clauses between themselves and the patients)... Also lots of people comparing this to the case with that Lloyds pharmacist... if anyone thinks this is worse than forging patient signatures, they need a check-up from the neck-up.

Arun Bains, Community pharmacist

Ms Murray got struck off for a lot less in my humble opinion.

John Cleese, Production & Technical

Have you actually read the full judgement? Mrs Murray admitted dishonesty, "was slow to admit her wrongdoing", had already stopped working as a pharmacist by the time she was called to the hearing, did not attend her hearing, was not represented, had no witnesses, gave no evidence "that she has remedied her attitude, or otherwise demonstrated insight into her misconduct". Of course she was struck off. If she had intended to carry on working as a pharmacist, she could have taken any number of steps to prevent this. Compare like with like!

Arun Bains, Community pharmacist

Where ever I look all I see is nails in the coffin of pharmacy.

 

Ps: I've seen the little guys struck off for a lot less than this.

Dodo pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Oh dear it seems they have got away with a warning and a three month suspension - what a surprise! Meanwhile a pharmacist bullied into carrying out MURs is struck off for falsifying them even when she received no financial benefit from doing so. How is this fair?

John Cleese, Production & Technical

Bullied? "Ms Murray said she was “slightly under pressure” to complete “eight to 10 MURs” a week, although she said she was not struggling to carry out the service and did not think this request was unreasonable."" (I'm trying to put this comment in the right place but the C&D website is not having it...)

John Cleese, Production & Technical

.

Pill Counter, Pharmacy

We have an apologist. I suppose the guardian article was a fairytale in your book.

cummunity pharmacist, Pharmacy

NOT FAIR AT ALL.... ONCE AGAIN SHOWS HOW THE GPHC WILL BURY INDIVIDUAL PHARMACISTS  FOR EVEN THE MOST MINOR INFRINGMENTS BUT LET THE MAJORS GET AWAY WITH MOST THINGS

 

WONDER WHAT THEY WILL DO TO BOOTS RE THE MUR SCANDAL..

 

Harry Tolly, Pharmacist

The profession has ZERO confidence in the GPhC. How can it be allowed to continue ? The implicit contract between a Regulator and those they regulate is based on trust. That trust no longer exists and the Regulator needs to be disbanded in its entirety.

cummunity pharmacist, Pharmacy

IF THIS WAS AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR THEY WOULD HAVE HUNG DRAWN AND QUARTERED HIM/HER... ONCE AGAIN SHOWS THAT BIG BUSINESS WILL ALWAYS PUSH OVER WHAT THEY CONSIDER WEAK REGULATORS LIKE THE GPHC...LOOK FORWARD TO RAISING THIS WITH THE INSPECTOR WHEN I NEXT SEE THEM.

 

 

RANT OVER .. BACK TO WORK I GO

John Cleese, Production & Technical

Pharmacy2U is an independent contractor.

cummunity pharmacist, Pharmacy

SQUIGGLE   LOOK AT THE LIST OF SHAREHOLDERS IN P2Y  .... HARDLY AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR/SOLE PROP....MAY I KINGLY SUGGEST YOU CHECK FACTS

 

https://companycheck.co.uk/company/03802593/PHARMACY2U-LIMITED/group-structure

John Cleese, Production & Technical

You didn't say "sole proprietor" before. So, how would you define "independent contractor"? This company has 11 pharmacies, but they call themselves an "independent pharmacy chain". Would you disagree? http://www.pharmacynow.co.uk/contact-us-head-office/

cummunity pharmacist, Pharmacy

SQUIGGLE

INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR / SOLE PROP IN MOST PEOPLES UNDERSTANDING IS A ONE MAN BAND.. I DID SAY INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR AND NOT INDEP PHARMACY CHAIN.

Pill Counter, Pharmacy

You are an apologist. And probably dismiss the guardian MUR article as a made up fairy tale.

Pages

Job of the week

Pharmacist Managers + Relief Pharmacists
Various locations in the North West
Competitive Salary – Attractive Relocation Packages & other benefits
Normal datacapture modal