Nine pharmacists who sold drugs illegally have been banned from practice, after a BBC investigation led to the “biggest crackdown” in UK pharmaceutical history.
In 2012, undercover reporters were sold Valium and opiates without prescription at seven London pharmacies. Now those responsible have been banned for between six months and life.
The BBC’s evidence has been submitted to the government by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), which is calling for increased powers.
The GPhC says it has been told by the Home Office that legislative change will follow, giving it the right to use covert surveillance to investigate the sort of abuses documented during the investigation.
It is also now confident of being allowed to maintain personal relationships to obtain information covertly from pharmacists believed to be illegally selling drugs.
One of the pharmacists was Chawan Shaida of Bin Seena Pharmacy, Paddington. He sold the BBC Valium, later claiming the incidents were isolated and caused no harm.
But the chairman of the GPhC’s fitness to practise hearing disagreed, saying: “He did it for personal gain. He neglected the interests of patients. The public will be shocked by Mr Shaida’s behaviour.”
He was removed from the register of licensed pharmacists and received a police caution.
Hussain Jamal Rasool, from Al Farabi pharmacy, Paddington, illegally supplied the BBC with a bottle of Oramorph, which contains morphine. He told the researcher he could consume as much as he wanted.
Dr Sarah Jarvis, a GP, told the BBC: “Opiates like Oramorph are extremely dangerous in the wrong hands. They can do untold damage and can kill.”
The chairman of Mr Rasool’s fitness to practice hearing, Patrick Milmo QC, said his behaviour was “shocking” and he “appeared oblivious to the enormity of what he was doing”.
He was also banned from practice and failed in a legal bid to overturn the decision at the High Court.
Another pharmacist, Rafif Sarheed, who also worked for Al Farabi, was caught on CCTV falsifying documentation in an attempt to escape censure for illegally selling diazepam.
The GPhC described her actions as “premeditated” and “very serious”.
It presented the BBC’s investigation to the government as evidence that it needs greater powers to investigate rogue pharmacists.
As part of a crackdown on the illegal sale of drugs, the GPhC has taken numerous other pharmacists to fitness to practise hearings, and set out new standards and inspections.
The BBC’s work has also been used as a tool to instruct all new pharmacists that the illegal sale of drugs will not be tolerated.
The council’s chief executive Duncan Rudkin said: “The BBC has carried out an important public service in exposing the unlawful sales of prescription medicines through their investigation.
“We have thoroughly investigated all of the concerns raised by their investigation and have taken robust action to protect the public, including restricting the ability of pharmacists involved to practise in Great Britain. But it is important that we all remain vigilant and anyone with any concerns about pharmacies or pharmacy professionals should contact us immediately.”
Ash Soni, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said of the hearings: “It demonstrates that where this is identified it will be dealt with. It’s the biggest crackdown by the GPhC to date.”
Many of the pharmacies were in the Edgware Road area, catering to a largely Arabic client base.
And a reputable pharmacist from the area, speaking to the BBC on condition of anonymity, said it was common knowledge that unlawful sales to foreign visitors continue to this day.
He said: “It’s still happening, on a smaller scale than it used to be. They supply the medicines to their known customers. They are not used to having to get prescriptions in their own countries, and do not want the bother of seeing a doctor here. I often get people coming into my pharmacy expecting to be able to get these sort of drugs without a prescription. When they realise we follow the rules, they don’t come back.”