‘Oversight’ leads to condition on registration

legal law case justice crime

A pharmacist who failed to maintain professional indemnity insurance cover while he practised for four months has been found to have engaged in unprofessional conduct

The pharmacist had been a registered member of the profession since the end of 2010, and worked as an employee pharmacist, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal heard.

For four months during 2016 – May to August – he did not hold professional indemnity insurance (PII), despite working for most of this period as an employee at pharmacies in NSW’s Riverina region, and suburban Melbourne.

The Tribunal noted that this was a breach of his obligations under the National Law, Standards concerning professional indemnity insurance arrangements for pharmacists, and the Code of Conduct for pharmacists.

AHPRA first became aware of the gap in PII in October 2016.

In a call and an email with an AHPRA investigator that month, the pharmacist said that his lack of cover was an “oversight”.

“It occurred in circumstances where he was working in different places, including interstate, a new insurance company had taken over the PII policy, and the cycle for insurance renewals did not correspond with the cycle for renewal of registration,” the Tribunal noted.

“It was unintentional, he said, and he apologised.”

Originally the pharmacist was told he would be referred to a performance and professional standards panel, but by 2019 he was told that he would be referred to VCAT.

After a number of adjournments, a hearing was listed for 3 April, but postponed to later this month due to disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pharmacist admitted that he had “failed to maintain adequate and appropriate professional indemnity insurance cover” during the period in question, which he again said was “simply an oversight on his part”.

The Tribunal outlined why health professionals are expected to hold adequate PII: “so that in the event a practitioner’s act or omission causes substantial actionable damage, there is no possibility of the affected person being left unable to recover for their loss”.

“For example, if through error, a pharmacist prescribes an excessive dose of a drug, causing the customer harm. That is why the obligation to hold PII whenever a pharmacist is practising is enshrined in the National Law.

“Regulators have a duty to enforce this obligation, in order to protect the public. Additionally, enforcement is required to maintain the reputation of the profession, and hence public confidence in the profession.”

The Tribunal found that failure to hold PII in the circumstances of this cases comprised unprofessional conduct.

However, it noted that this case was less serious than other cases referred to it where practitioners have failed to hold PII.

“Additionally, the finding here is not accompanied by a finding that upon renewal of registration, a false declaration was made that PII is in place (which was the case in nearly all of the other matters referred to us).”

The Tribunal ordered that the pharmacist’s registration be subject to a condition that his compliance with his PII obligations be audited for a period of, in effect, five years.

A spokesperson for PDL said that without commenting on the facts of the case itself, this was a “timely reminder for all pharmacists to fulfil their obligations with regard to Professional Indemnity Insurance”.

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