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Theft conviction leads to 12-month suspension order for pharmacist

A pharmacist convicted under the Theft Act has been suspended from the Register for 12 months by order of the fitness-to-practise committee of the General Pharmaceutical Council.

Andrew Neil Phillips (registration number 2042770) appeared before the committee on 16 December 2013. Information had been received that, on 20 July 2012, at Glamorgan Valley Magistrates’ Court, Mr Neil pleaded guilty to and had been convicted of the offence of jointly with another dishonestly falsifying a document, namely creating an FP34C, contrary to the Theft Act 1968. For that he was sentenced to a community service order.

Mr Phillips was present at the inquiry and was represented by Kevin McCartney, of counsel, instructed by Charles Russell LLP.

John Hepworth, of Blake Lapthorn Solicitors, appeared on behalf of the GPhC.

The committee heard that, between 2005 and 2009, Mr Phillips’s pharmacy supplied a local surgery with various medical items. Mr Phillips never invoiced the surgery until 2009 when the amount owed at cost price was just under £3,000. An arrangement was then made with the surgery for the discharge of this debt by a fraudulent scheme whereby the surgery would not pay the outstanding debt but the local or health authority would. The scheme involved Mr Phillips providing details of medicines, the cost price of which would amount to sums owed by the surgery, to his pharmacy. The surgery would provide bogus prescriptions for these medicines. The prescriptions would not be dispensed but the pharmacy would submit the prescriptions for payment on FP32C forms to the NHS paying authority for Wales.

As a result of this scheme, the surgery made out 33 bogus prescriptions between June and September 2010, and Mr Phillips applied for the cost of the medicines on them and was paid a total amount of £2,220.44, some £700 short of the sum owed by the surgery.

Prime mover in dishonest and fraudulent scheme

In summary, the committee heard, although the fraud did not enrich Mr Phillips by putting into his pocket money to which he was not entitled, he was one of the prime movers in a dishonest and fraudulent scheme to extract from public funds monies owed to him by the surgery.

Giving the committee’s decision, the chairman, Patrick Milmo, QC, said: “It is indisputable that what Mr Phillips did was thoroughly dishonest, and it was dishonesty that struck at the heart of the NHS system of reimbursing pharmacies for dispensed prescriptions, which is utterly reliant on the honesty of pharmacists.”

The chairman said that the committee had no reason to disbelieve Mr Phillips when he had said that the suggestion for the dishonest scheme had come from the surgery. That was implicitly confirmed by the fact that the bogus prescriptions had all been signed by the doctor. The chairman also noted that all monies had been repaid by Mr Phillips, perhaps more than he had actually received. But he had still, on the committee’s understanding, not been paid by the surgery.

Ordering Mr Phillips’s suspension from the Register for 12 months, the chairman said that there would be a review before the end of the suspension period. “The reviewing panel will want to be reassured that he has used his period of suspension constructively and kept up to date with any developments in the practice of pharmacy, that he has had time to reflect on the consequences of his actions and is able to report positively on his disposition and attitude towards what he has done,” he concluded.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11135505

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