By Noel Baker and Evelyn Ring
IRELAND’S liberal pharmacy market could be exploited by someone like Dr Harold Shipman, who obtained large quantities of controlled drugs and used them to kill victims, a British pharmaceutical expert warned yesterday.
Director of Fitness to Practice and Legal Affairs in the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB), Mandie Lavin, said Irish legislators had important lessons to learn from the Shipman Inquiry.
She pointed out that the RPSGB now ensured that British pharmacy owners were fit to own and manage a pharmacy, and could remove a pharmacist found to have acted in an unprofessional manner.
"Ireland does not have the same controls over the individuals who can own pharmacies and there is a real fear that a person like Dr Shipman could purchase large amounts of very potent drugs," she said.
"Because the controls are not there, a person with a serious criminal conviction could operate a pharmacy in Ireland. That could not happen in Britain," said Ms Lavin. She was addressing a conference in Dublin hosted by the Irish Pharmaceutical Union (IPU). IPU president Dr Karl Hilton said the Government must introduce fitness to practice legislation to ensure that minimum ethical and professional standards in pharmacy were maintained.
Tánaiste and Health minister Mary Harney received Government approval in June last year to prepare two pharmacy bills dealing with a number of issues, including fitness to practice and providing a statutory basis for the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland.
The proposed legislation would also remove the bar on pharmacists educated in other European countries from owning, managing or supervising a pharmacy in Ireland that is less than three years old.
But Labour’s health spokeswoman Liz McManus said the introduction of the legislation was hampered by the absence of a full-time chief pharmacist in the Department of Health. Ms McManus pointed out that currently the society could not strike rogue pharmacists from the register.
A Department of Health spokesperson said arrangements were being drawn up for a chief pharmacist under department restructuring.
In the meantime, the services of the former chief pharmacist, who retired in April, was available on a consultancy basis.
Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland registrar and secretary Dr Ambrose McLoughlin pointed out that the airline industry would have no customers if its standards were as lax as those applied to the pharmacy profession.
"Fitness to practice legislation must follow the same lines as the airline industry," he said.