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'The frustrating way some pharmacists face fitness-to-practise cases'

"Good legal advice enables a pharmacist to gain insight"

Pharmacy lawyer David Reissner reflects on a common mistake he’s seen community pharmacists make during his 40-year career

I’ll soon be retiring as a partner in my law firm, and although I’ll continue to have involvement in the community pharmacy sector, I won’t be representing clients in fitness-to-practise cases any more.

I hope this means I can’t be accused of having a self-interest in what I write here.

Because one of the most frustrating things in my 40 years of practice has been the community pharmacists who don’t want to spend money on good legal advice when they are facing fitness-to-practise proceedings – in which their livelihoods are at risk.

Good legal advice can often make the difference between a suspension and being struck off from the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) register. This is not because well-represented pharmacists necessarily have a silver-tongued advocate, but because good advice enables a pharmacist to gain insight.

A recent Court of Appeal case illustrates my point. In December 2012, the BBC broadcast an Inside Out programme in which a number of pharmacists were caught on camera selling prescription-only medicines over the counter without prescriptions.

The BBC claimed its investigation led to nine pharmacists being suspended or struck off, and the programme appeared to spur the GPhC into asking the government for greater investigatory powers.

One of the pharmacists who was filmed for the programme went on to spend money on an unsuccessful High Court appeal, which was dismissed in 2016. Now the same pharmacist has just thrown good money after bad by appealing – also unsuccessfully – to the Court of Appeal. She denied selling amoxicillin over the counter, but the allegation was found proved, and she was struck off.

The law says that appeals in these cases will only be upheld if the fitness-to-practise committee’s decision was “plainly wrong”. So a decision will not be overturned just because a judge might have come to a different conclusion.

In the most recent case, the Court of Appeal considered a number of complaints that the committee’s decision was unfair. One judge criticised the committee because it found the unrepresented pharmacist’s fitness-to-practise was impaired, but did not offer to adjourn before moving on to consider what sanction to impose.

The judge also criticised the committee for not warning the pharmacist that it was considering striking her off, and even considered that the committee had overstated the seriousness of the case. However, he concluded that the committee’s decisions were ones it was entitled to make, and so the court could not interfere.

The judge said that if the pharmacist “had acted differently at a very early stage, the committee would no doubt have taken a different view”. Taking good legal advice at that early stage could have saved a pharmacist’s career, and avoided years of litigation and money spent on appeals.

David Reissner is senior healthcare partner at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys LLP


paul lisbon, GP

David Reissner is a great lawyer and always ready to support pharmacists. Trust me,  the industry is losing a good lawyer, someone who knows what he's talking about.

amardeep bindra, Community pharmacist

Erm, hang on.

"The frustrating way that all lawyers want more money"!

Why don't pharmacists want to spend money on good lawyers? Because they probably can't afford it. And why would they want to save their career? Pharmacy is not a career, it's a ball and chain. It's not like the legal profession, which is respected and properly remunerated.

There's your answer.

PS How many days would I have to work to be able to afford an hour of your time, Mr Reissner?

Duncan Rudkin has brought the profession into disrepute. When will we see him at an FtP hearing? Never? I thought as much.

One rule for us and another rule for them?

Utterly, utterly, disgusting and disgraceful.

Andrew Paxton, Community pharmacist

It was well remunerated when I had one, but not any more.  Not directly due to Keith Ridge, but he hasn't helped!

amardeep bindra, Community pharmacist

*This comment has been deleted for breaching C+D's community principles*

M Yang, Community pharmacist

Is this your "Arya Stark" list of names? I'm sure GoT fans will understand.

amardeep bindra, Community pharmacist

I don't know anything about of Game of Thrones, but I have done my due diligence and exhaustive research to name some of the people who have destroyed the profession, either actively or passively (it makes no difference). IMHO, ofc.

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