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When is a Superintendent Pharmacist Guilty of Misconduct

27 February 2015

The Re-balancing Committee under Ken Jarrold has been looking not only at decriminalising dispensing errors, but also at the role of superintendent pharmacists.

The law makes superintendents responsible for management of a company in relation to the supply of prescription medicines and OTC medicines sales. Additionally, the GPhC requires superintendents to make sure its Standards are met and that pharmacies comply with the law.

When the Royal Pharmaceutical Society policed the profession, it usually brought disciplinary proceedings against the superintendent whenever something went wrong at a pharmacy owned by a company. That trend was reversed when the GPhC took over as regulator, probably because the role of responsible pharmacist had been created. In the last few years, most fitness to practise cases have involved the RP rather than the SP. However, I have noticed a recent tendency of the GPhC's Investigating Committee to revert to bringing cases against superintendents. This appears to be based on a misconceived view that whenever something goes wrong, the superintendent must be guilty.

In my very first judicial review case back in 1982, the High Court ruled that a superintendent could delegate to another pharmacist.  After all, superintendents are allowed to take holidays or be sick; and if a company owns many branches, the superintendent cannot be expected to visit all of them.  In 2009, shortly before the creation of the GPhC, the RPSGB’s Disciplinary Committee dealt with a case involving a series of dispensing errors by a locum at a multiple-owned pharmacy. The Chair of the Committee ruled that a superintendent pharmacist has a personal professional responsibility to ensure the observance of all legal and professional requirements in relation to pharmaceutical aspects of the business, but this does not automatically mean the superintendent is guilty of misconduct when something goes wrong: to be found guilty of misconduct, the superintendent must have consented to it or encouraged it, or negligently failed to prevent it. Without a finding of serious fault, the superintendent cannot be guilty of misconduct.

In short:

  • Superintendents are responsible for management in relation to retail sales  of medicines and supplies on prescription
  • Superintendents are responsible for ensuring GPhC Standards are met
  • Superintendents are allowed to delegate
  • A superintendent is not automatically guilty of misconduct just because something has gone wrong.

The Government’s recent response to the Law Commission’s report on the regulation of healthcare professionals signifies an intention to change the law this year.  Tantalisingly, we don’t know what the new law will be. Whatever change is made, I hope the Investigating Committee will be more careful in its approach to superintendents and responsible pharmacists.

This article first appeared in Chemist & Druggist in February 2015