Chemist gave morphine over counter

A pharmacist who repeat-edly dispensed powerful drugs to customers without prescription was the first to be found guilty of professional misconduct and placed under restricted practice by the watchdog for the profession.

As the pharmacy regulator begins to show its teeth, it has emerged it is receiving a complaint a week about the standards, professionalism, and behaviour of pharmacists.

Three years into its existence, the regulator already has a backlog of cases to be heard by committees of inquiry and that is despite the majority of complaints being deemed after preliminary examination not to warrant a full hearing.

The Irish Patients Association, which independently audits cases following inquiries, expressed concern at the delays in bringing complaints to conclusion.

Chairman Stephen McMahon, said: “We would like to see complaints handled far more expeditiously, mindful of the fact that there must be fair legal process.”

The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, which acts as regulator, said it was awaiting approval from the Department of Health for staff, including a solicitor in the fitness to practice and legal affairs unit.

The society is responsible for maintaining the register and regulating the professional practice of 4,500 pharmacists, 550 pharmaceutical assistants, and 1,700 pharmacies.

Mr McMahon said while the number of serious complaints was small, the number of people exposed to poor practice was huge.

“There are 1.6m visits to pharmacies in an average week so any one complaint could have a big impact because of the sheer number of people across the threshold,” he said.

Eleven pharmacists have been disciplined since the formal complaints system was put in place but just two have been subject to the more serious sanction of having conditions attached to their registration.

Only one of those cases has so far been formally concluded by way of affirmation by the High Court and that involved a pharmacist who admitted dispensing without prescription morphine and other powerful painkillers as well as diazepam and veterinary drugs to nine patients on 15 occasions in a seven-month period in 2011.

Mark Wright of The Medical Hall, Tyrellspass, Co Westmeath, was ordered to step down from his position as senior pharmacist and work under supervision, to engage a mentor to monitor his practice and report to the society every three months. His period under sanction ends today.

The Irish Pharmaceutical Union, which represents pharmacists, would not comment on individual cases but said it fully supported the setting up of the regulator and complaints process.

President Rory O’Donnell said it was too soon to judge if sanctions against members were being applied fairly and consistently.

“We advocate for high standards so we would hope that pharmacists who fall below them would be treated fairly and given every opportunity to remediate.”

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