A pharmacist and a pharmacy technician in Northern Ireland have been fined and sentenced to community service for their part in the unlawful supply of prescription-only medicines (POMs) including methadone, the country’s Department of Health (DH) has said.
63-year-old pharmacist Gerard Maginn, owner of Clanua Ltd trading as Harts Pharmacy at 50 Main Street, Newcastle, County Down, was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and fined a total of £25,000.
Clanua Ltd company secretary and pharmacy technician 33-year-old Gordon Thompson, received 80 hours of community service and fined £1,000.
The ‘significant range’ of medicines unlawfully supplied from Harts Pharmacy in March 2017 included warfarin, pregabalin, antibiotics and methadone, the DH reported on Wednesday (17 October).
Both Mr Maginn and Mr Thomson had previously pleaded guilty to 18 charges in relation to the unlawful supply of POMs from the pharmacy, the DH said.
Enforcement officers at the Government’s medicines watchdog the Medicines Regulatory Group (MRG) discovered the unlawful supplies following an audit and investigation process carried out in Harts Pharmacy last year. They found that the medicines had been supplied without the presence of a qualified registered pharmacist in the pharmacy on 24 March 2017 between 9am and 6pm.
According to the MRG, the prosecution is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland.
MRG acting head Canice Ward said: ‘This conviction sends a clear message that there are serious consequences if an owner attempts to operate a pharmacy without a pharmacist being present or if someone tries to work as a pharmacist when they are not qualified or registered to practise.’
‘Not everyday consumer goods’
DH senior medicines enforcement officer Peter Moore said that medicines are ‘not everyday consumer goods’, with their sale and supply being subject to ‘strict legal controls’.
He added: ‘It is with good reason that the law requires a qualified pharmacist to be present in the pharmacy dispensary when prescription medicines are being supplied to members of the public.
‘When entering a pharmacy, the public should have reasonable expectation that their prescription needs will be met by a qualified professional.
‘Pharmacists are there not only to dispense medicines but to advise or assist patients in the use of these medicines and, most importantly, to ensure the safe and effective running of the pharmacy.
‘Unfortunately, this did not happen in this case and members of the public could have been endangered as a result.’
Pharmacy body intervention
The DH said that the ‘matter will now be referred to the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI)’, which is the country’s regulatory and professional body for pharmacists.
A PSNI spokesperson told The Pharmacist today (19 October) that the case of Mr Maginn will be examined through a fitness-to-practise process, which might take between three and six months. They said that the sanctions range from advice or warnings on the conditions to practice, to suspension or erasure from the register.
As pharmacy technicians are not regulated as a profession in Northern Ireland, PSNI has no power to take further action regarding Mr Thompson, they said.