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Professional Tribunals

It is vital for pharmacists to get their own independent representation in the event of a tribunal involving an investigation into a death of a patient potentially caused by malpractice.

Often at a professional tribunal, such as at a coroner’s inquest, the other members of the healthcare team involved in an episode of patient harm will attend with their own independent representation. It is vital for pharmacists to do the same as otherwise the outcome of the inquest could be very disadvantageous or even disastrous to their professional reputation. Usually some form of a tribunal is convened where there is an investigation into a death of a patient potentially caused by malpractice.

Unfortunately, dispensing errors and clinical errors such as a misdiagnosis, are sometimes followed by the death of a patient. The error may not have caused or contributed to the death, but nevertheless it may be investigated by social workers or a coroner (or procurator fiscal in Scotland). Pharmacists can find themselves giving evidence about their actions at a hearing, being cajoled by solicitors appointed by their employer (whose objective may be to protect the employer and/or to secure repeated business). Additionally, a pharmacist may also be questioned by the family of the deceased – usually via their legal representative. Pharmacists will inevitably find these hearings highly stressful and their involvement in such cases will likely come to the attention of the regulator.

In such a situation the regulator (GPhC or PSNI) is duty bound to investigate. Complaints to the regulator about individual pharmacists are becoming more and more common and whether or not they find that a pharmacist has done anything wrong professionally, the additional investigation is a further source of stress for the individual and can take a long time to complete.

If a pharmacist is subsequently disciplined or dismissed by their employer – for example on performance grounds or where they have made a genuine mistake – the employer may decide to refer them to the regulator, calling their fitness to practice in to question. They may see this as a way to protect themselves and their brand, to make themselves appear cooperative in the eyes of the regulator or even to protect themselves from any criticism in the press or at some future event. The PDA handles many cases where the disciplinary, dismissal and fitness to practice referrals are unreasonable.

Sometimes when an error is made, patients will report the pharmacist to the regulator in the belief that this is the way to secure compensation. Often, when patients discover that a GPhC or PSNI referral will not result in compensation they try and withdraw their complaint as it involves them in considerable time and effort. However, it is inevitable that the regulator will continue their investigation. In cases of genuine error, the least that a pharmacist can expect is a verbal warning and the worst is a referral of a case for a full fitness to practice (‘Statutory Committee’) hearing.

The PDA is most effective when members give notification of proceedings as soon as they become aware, especially if they have not yet given a statement or been interviewed or investigated by an external party. If the worst happens and a member is referred to the regulator and ends up facing a statutory committee hearing, the PDA will cover the costs of defending a member’s reputation, but more importantly, the PDA will try and prevent that from happening in the first place.

The PDA will provide members with:

  • Independent advice
  • Practical support by providing an experienced mentor to assist in any disciplinary proceedings instigated by the regulator
  • Access and referral to legal experts where appropriate
  • Insurance cover* providing up to £500,000 of legal costs associated with any inquest convened to inquire into a member’s professional activities or conduct e.g. a coroner’s inquest or fitness to practice hearing.

*The insurance included with PDA membership is arranged and administered by The Pharmacy Insurance Agency (PIA) Ltd who are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Register No 307063).

The Pharmacists' Defence Association is a company limited by guarantee. Registered in England; Company No 4746656.

The Pharmacists' Defence Association is an appointed representative in respect of insurance mediation activities only of
The Pharmacy Insurance Agency Limited which is registered in England and Wales under company number 2591975
and is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Register No 307063)

The PDA Union is recognised by the Certification Officer as an independent trade union.

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