A superintendent pharmacist has been suspended for 12 months for overseeing the sale of antibiotics and Viagra without a prescription, as captured on camera in the 2012 BBC exposé.
Paul Edward Healy, registration number 2081443, became the third pharmacist to be suspended as a result of the BBC investigation into illegal medicine sales at a General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) fitness-to-practise hearing on September 26. Two further pharmacists have been previously struck off.
The GPhC failed to accept Mr Healy's explanation that his pharmacy's counter assistant had sold both the drugs without his knowledge, revealed a transcript of the proceedings published last week (November 28). But the regulator pointed out that Mr Healy was a relatively inexperienced pharmacist who felt "culturally and linguistically" isolated in his working environment, where he lacked control over the staff.
Mr Healy qualified as a pharmacist in 2008 and worked as a locum in Ireland before starting a job at Al Razi Pharmacy on Edgware Road in London in November 2011. He was promoted to the position of superintendent at the pharmacy, which dispensed only private prescriptions, "within weeks", the GPhC heard.
An undercover BBC reporter entered the pharmacy in September 2012 and asked the counter assistant for amoxicillin without a prescription. BBC footage showed the counter assistant briefly talking to Mr Healy, who handed her a packet of amoxicillin. The assistant went on to sell the drug to the reporter, but the sale was not made within Mr Healy's sight.
In a second incident, the same reporter returned to the pharmacy to ask the counter assistant for Viagra. The counter assistant discussed the strength required and bent down to retrieve the medicine in the "immediate vicinity" of Mr Healy before making the supply without a prescription.
The reporter went on to ask for Valium, at which point he was told to come back at 3pm, when the pharmacy owner would be present.
The GPhC rejected Mr Healy's claims that he was unaware of either sale to the BBC reporter. The fitness-to-practise committee pointed out that he showed "apparent disinterest" in what had happened to the amoxicillin after giving it to the counter assistant, who has since received a police caution for supplying prescription-only medicines without a prescription.
Mr Healy made no mention of having a conversation with the counter assistant about the amoxicillin until his cross-examination, the GPhC added, which made his evidence on the incident "unconvincing".
The GPhC also stressed that Mr Healy made "no inquiry" as to what the counter assistant was doing when she supplied the Viagra, which suggested his supervision was insufficient.
'Flagrant breach' of standards
Mr Healy's continual denial of the allegations made it hard to believe he had remedied his misconduct, which was a "flagrant breach" of the profession's standards, the GPhC said. But it also noted that he was a young pharmacist who had produced testimonials stating that he was "honest, hard-working, committed to his profession and highly regarded by his peers".
The majority of patients at Al Razi Pharmacy were either Arabic or Arabic-speaking and would only speak to staff who understood the language, often refusing to talk to Mr Healy, the GPhC said. This led him to feel isolated and he lacked the courage to intervene or control the staff, it concluded.
The GPhC also noted that Mr Healy had gone back to university since the incident – gaining a masters degree and undertaking a research internship with University College London's School of Pharmacy.
The regulator ruled there was public interest in retaining a pharmacist "with the qualities and ambitions" of Mr Healy and ruled to suspend him from the register for 12 months with a review at the end of the period. At the review hearing, Mr Healy would need to demonstrate insight and show he had used his time of suspension "positively and productively", the GPhC said.
Read the full determination on Mr Healy's case here.