A British pharmacist had difficulty breathing, lay down in the dispensary and had to have an ambulance called after taking cocaine for “three days straight”

Peter Barr, who was employed by Boots UK and also worked as the responsible pharmacist at Boots Grimsby, in Lincolnshire, was suspended for eight months at a hearing by the UK’s pharmacy regulator, the General Pharmaceutical Council.

On the day in question, in March 2017, Mr Barr arrived to work 15 minutes late and purported to carry out his duties, the GPhC hearing noted.

A pharmacy technician and pharmacy advisor gave evidence that when he arrived at work, Mr Barr’s appearance was “consistent with his description of having been to a party the night before”.

Soon after he arrived, he was observed to take two tablets which evidence suggested may have been diazepam and propranolol.

Originally the technician and advisor were not concerned about his fitness to do his job, but as the morning wore on, Mr Barr went downhill.

At one point, he said he did not feel able to check and sign a script for a patient who was waiting for their medicines, though he did check the script later.

He began to complain of having a racing heart and difficulty breathing.

He sat, and then lay, on the floor of his dispensary and removed his tie.

The technician said he became pale and was unable to articulate what was happening to him; however it was Mr Barr himself who suggested that he should go to hospital and that an ambulance should be called.

During the morning in question, he also told the pharmacy advisor that during the party he had attended, he had consumed more than just alcohol.

When she asked what else he had been doing, he replied, “cocaine”.

Later that afternoon he spoke on the phone to a friend and regular co-worker, who worked as a dispenser, and said that he had been taking cocaine “for three days straight” and had gone in to work in his role as the responsible pharmacist despite his racing heart and feeling unwell.

He told her he had been using cocaine regularly for more than two months.

No drugs were recovered from Mr Barr, and there was no medical or scientific evidence that he had taken cocaine, but the Committee said that his admission of taking the drug satisfied it that he had done so.

Leading up to the hearing Mr Barr had not engaged with the GPhC for some time, and in January 2018, he emailed the case officer asking that the Council not to email or send letters.

In March 2018 he told it that “I won’t be attending the hearing. I would appreciate it if the GPhC stopped contacting me.”

When it was pointed out that the Council had a duty to provide notice of any forthcoming hearing, Mr Barr suggested it was harassing him.

He had also failed to engage in the Council’s drug procedure, by declining to undergo a drugs test.

The hearing subsequently occurred in his absence.

The Committee brought back a finding of misconduct and said Mr Barr’s actions “would be regarded as deplorable by the public and by fellow professionals”.

His actions on the day in question posed a potential risk of harm to patients as he lacked the capacity to concentrate fully on his professional responsibilities, thus increasing the risk of a dispensing error, it said.

However the Committee also noted that he did decline to check a script, which was inconvenient for the patient, but declining to do so was better than going ahead despite his impairment.

Because he had not engaged with the GPhC, there was no evidence as to whether Mr Barr was continuing to use cocaine or not; therefore the Committee concluded his fitness to practise as a pharmacist was currently impaired due to his misconduct.

However it also said he appeared to be a competent practitioner and it was in the public interest for him to have the opportunity to demonstrate that he is capable of returning to safe and effective practice.

It imposed a suspension of eight months. An earlier interim order, for a period of 18 months from March 2017, was revoked.