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Superintendent pharmacists

30 November 2013

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s English Pharmacy Board says that superintendent pharmacists should have board-level status within pharmacy companies. For me, it feels a century too late.

Over 130 years ago, the courts ruled that a particular offence could not be committed by a company but only by a human being. As a result, the Pharmacy Act 1908 required all companies running a pharmacy business to appoint a superintendent who was a pharmacist. In addition, legislation was introduced, and is still in the Medicines Act 1968, saying that in the case of a company that has the word “chemist” in its name, the superintendent pharmacist must be a member of the board. In my view, just as the word “chemist” is regarded as out of date, so is the idea that pharmacists must be board members. Many pharmacy businesses are very diversified, and they do not provide only pharmaceutical services. Of course, from a pharmacy perspective, the provision of pharmaceutical services is the most important thing a business can do, but (to take an obvious example) why should a supermarket business be required to appoint a pharmacist to its board?

The EPB says that the superintendent’s role is important and so senior, being a director would ensure high level professional leadership and responsibility. In my experience, superintendent pharmacists have always been held to account because of the importance of their role. This was especially apparent when the Royal Pharmaceutical Society was the profession’s regulator. Whenever something went wrong in a pharmacy owned by a company, the company and the superintendent were routinely investigated, even for trivial incidents in a branch. They often faced disciplinary proceedings before the Statutory Committee. However, the world has moved on. Nowadays, when something goes wrong in a pharmacy, the GPhC is likely to look first at the responsible pharmacist, whose legal duty it is, in relation to the supply of medicines, to ensure the safe and effective running of the pharmacy in question.

Superintendents still have legal and professional responsibilities. Legally, superintendents are company officers and if an offence is committed by the company, they can be prosecuted in a criminal court. Superintendents must put systems in place so that responsible pharmacists can carry out their duties. The GPhC makes it clear that pharmacy owners and superintendents are expected to make sure that all its standards are met. Making superintendents company directors will not change anything.

For more information please contact David Reissner, Partner

T: +44 (0)20 7203 5065