Pharmacist snooped in previous employer’s network

dark computer laptop

After an “acrimonious” end to his contract at one store, a pharmacist set up a competing business – but first, he attempted to access commercial information

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal heard that the man has been working in various capacities as a pharmacist since he qualified in 2006, and had no prior criminal history, though he had been the subject of several notifications.

He pleaded guilty in the Southport Magistrates Court in March 2016 of one count of using a restricted computer without consent.

At the time, he was fined $700 with no conviction recorded.

At the time of the offence in 2015, his contract as a compounding pharmacist at a Priceline had ended two months prior – and he had already started his own competitor company, a compounding pharmacy.

He used his remote access to the Priceline computer network via TeamViewer, accessing the network though he was no longer authorised to do so.

The Tribunal heard that the pharmacist was “well aware” that he was not permitted to access the network after the end of his contract.

“During his access to the network, the respondent twice attempted to take a screenshot of an index of the contents of a folder,” Judicial Member John Robertson noted.

“The access was terminated by another Priceline employee, approximately 21 minutes after the respondent first accessed the network.”

The attempts at taking screenshots was not successful.

“The conduct occurred in circumstances in which the completion of his contract was acrimonious, and he had set up a business in competition with the previous employer,” Mr Robertson noted.

He said that the pharmacist’s conduct could be “properly characterised as unlawfully attempting to obtain a commercial advantage by accessing the intellectual property of another pharmacist without consent and in the circumstances set out above”.

He also observed that the Priceline had not taken any steps to terminate the pharmacist’s peer-to-peer rights once the contract had been terminated – and did not accept the Health Ombudsman’s argument that the conduct was dishonest.

“It certainly constituted a breach of trust and a breach of commercial confidence and it is the context in which that occurred that places the conduct within the definition of ‘professional misconduct’.”

Mr Robertson also noted the pharmacist’s prior history of notifications, which included a 2008 complaint that he had dispensed Avapro 300mg instead of 75mg, and a 2013 complaint that he had supplied Nurofen Plus online without the appropriate pre-purchase assessment of the purchaser (in this case he had received a caution from the Board).

In 2014 another pharmacy owner alleged to AHPRA that the pharmacist had breached client confidentiality by accessing customer records and writing letters using the list to solicit business. The Board took no further action as the complaint was of a “commercial nature” and did not demonstrate a risk to the public.

In 2016 AHPRA raised a notification as the pharmacist had failed to meet his professional indemnity insurance requirements, and failed to correctly declare on his application for renewal of registration that he had met all of the registration requirements of the Board, which includes the holding of professional indemnity insurance.

The Judicial Member noted that while the pharmacist had only been cautioned twice, this history was relevant as “it indicates a practitioner who has a poor understanding of his ethical obligations as a professional pharmacist”.

The Tribunal found that the pharmacist had behaved in a way which constituted professional misconduct, and reprimanded him.

It imposed conditions on his registration in that he must complete an accredited and Board-approved course on ethical decision making within six months of the tribunal’s decision.

It said he would be responsible for paying all costs associated with compliance with these conditions.

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