A second pharmacist has been suspended from the professional register for 12 months as a result of 2012's BBC exposé, in which she was recorded on camera supervising the illegal sale of prescription-only medicines.
An undercover reporter was able to buy antibiotics without a prescription with "frankly shocking" ease at a pharmacy run by Bita Faizollahi, registration number 2047300, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) said at a fitness-to-practise hearing on July 9.
The GPhC acknowledged that Ms Faizollahi had a previously unblemished record and was held in "high regard" by patients, colleagues and friends. But it rejected her assertions that her pharmacy's counter assistant had supplied the amoxicillin without her knowledge, and said she had demonstrated no insight into her misconduct.
An undercover BBC reporter entered Ms Faizollahi's pharmacy Craig Thomson in Willesden, London, in August 2012. BBC footage showed the reporter approaching the counter assistant and asking for amoxicillin in Arabic, without supplying a prescription.
In the footage, the counter assistant then spoke to Ms Faizollahi and returned to the reporter to ask which strength he would like. After he confirmed he wanted 500mg, Ms Faizollahi was captured on camera reaching for the shelf behind her and taking a packet, then bending down behind the dispensary. The counter assistant reached down behind the dispensary and produced the medication in a white dispensing bag shortly before making a sale. No professional checks were made.
Ms Faizollahi claimed to have no recollection of the event and said she must have been unaware her counter assistant was going to sell the medication. Many customers wanted to see the medication before it was supplied, she told the GPhC, and she must have believed the counter assistant was only going to show the box of amoxicillin to the customer.
Ms Faizollahi told the GPhC she would "not even contemplate" an emergency supply of amoxicillin. In an interview with police following the broadcast of the BBC programme, Ms Faizollahi had also been "very reluctant" to accept that the footage showed her putting the medication in the dispensing bag, the GPhC heard.
The GPhC accepted that Ms Faizollahi had produced a "large number" of testimonials describing her as an honest and professional person. Some of the character witnesses also testified that Ms Faizollahi had always refused to provide medication without a prescription.
Although Ms Faizollahi had a generally "good character", the GPhC rejected her argument that she was unaware of the illegal sale. It deemed that the footage made it "obvious" she was involved and ruled that she had put the medicine in a dispensing bag. The GPhC stressed that, if Ms Faizollahi had believed the customer only wanted to look at the medicine, she would not have done this.
By failing to admit to her knowledge of the sale, Ms Faizollahi had made it "impossible to assess her true attitude" to her misconduct, the GPhC argued. It condemned her attempts to try to blame her counter assistant for the offence and stressed that the unregulated supply of antibiotics ran the risk of increasing antimicrobial resistance in the general population.
The GPhC said there was, however, some public interest in keeping on the register a "competent pharmacist" who had just one single incident of misconduct. It ruled that a year was the minimum period necessary to suspend Ms Faizollahi and ordered a review a month before its expiry, at which she would have to show she had "reflected very deeply" on her denial and prove she was fit to practise.
C+D reported the first suspension of a pharmacist involved in the BBC scandal on Monday (July 14). Five other pharmacists have been handed interim suspensions on the back of the BBC allegations – three will have hearings by the end of September and two have no set date for their hearings.
Read the full determination here.