Reprimanded pharmacist too tired to speak

A pharmacist was under pressure to limit dispensing time and sell add-ons when he stole medicines for family, a tribunal has heard

A pharmacist has been reprimanded and ordered not to work as a pharmacist-in-charge or sole pharmacist on duty by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

The man worked as a pharmacist-in-charge at a south-western Sydney pharmacy when over a period of about 30 days in December 2017 and January 2018, he stole various items with a value of about $2000.

In January 2018, the pharmacist’s supervisor reported to the store’s owner that he had been spotted taking diabetes treatment Januvia (2 x 100mg).

Six days later his employment was terminated and a stocktake found that around $2000 worth of medicines was missing.

The pharmacist said that the offences began after he forgot to pay for a couple of small items his mother had asked him to buy for her, and said that after this, he began taking small items without paying.

This soon became a habit, he said.

He also claimed that he gave the stolen items to members of his extended family.

His registration as a pharmacist was suspended in July 2018 and aside from two weeks in April that year, he has not worked as a pharmacist since his dismissal over the theft.

He entered a guilty plea over the stealing but failed to report to the National Board that he had been charged with a criminal offence, saying he was aware that he would need to do so if convicted, but was not aware that he also needed to report being charged.

The pharmacist told the Tribunal that in 2016, he had been informed that the pharmacy was “under-performing” and that he had been told he must now meet several key performance indicators.

He said that these included spending no more than five minutes dispensing prescriptions, as well as encouraging patients to buy “add-ons”.

“Around this time, the number of staff working in the pharmacy was reduced and he was often the sole pharmacist, dispensing up to 250 prescriptions per day,” the Tribunal noted.

The pharmacist said that this caused mistakes in the pharmacy’s operation, though not dispensing errors – placing him under “considerable pressure”.

The pharmacist also said that he felt unable to raise his growing inability to meet the work of his demands with the pharmacy’s manager, or with the owner, who he said was elderly and increasingly anxious about the business’ poor financial performance.

The pharmacist’s father, also a member of the profession, gave evidence that had had noticed a “sharp decline” in his son’s health around 2016.

He said that at this time, his son told him he was becoming more anxious and felt unable to meet the sales goals and time targets for dispensing scripts.

“He observed that on some days, after work, his son was unable to even speak because of exhaustion,” the Tribunal noted. “This coincided with a noticeable increase in his son’s weight, and episodes of gout which seemed to increase his son’s anxiety.”

The pharmacist has since “diligently” been using the services of a psychologist, who told the Tribunal that his patient was likely to have been clinically depressed when the thefts took place.

He said that cultural factors were also a likely issue, with the pharmacist, who is a first-generation Australian of Chinese heritage, feeling that he had let his family down by not achieving sufficient high school marks to study medicine, and that he could not turn to his family for help in dealing with the pressures of working at the pharmacy.

The Tribunal accepted the psychologist’s opinion that the pharmacist posed no real and material risk of reoffending, though it said the depression and lack of support did not fully explain the behaviour.

It also noted that the offence was a “one-off” in an otherwise unblemished career, highlighting that as the pharmacist had worked for some time as a sole pharmacist he had ample opportunity to steal and commit other acts of dishonesty, but there was no evidence he had done so.

He also admitted guilt when questioned and entered a guilty plea at the first opportunity.

The Tribunal reprimanded the pharmacist and placed a number of conditions on his registration, for 12 months or a longer period if so determined by the Pharmacy Council of NSW.

These include that he not work as a pharmacist in charge or sole pharmacist.

He was also ordered to continue seeing a psychologist, and undergo mentoring by an experienced pharmacist; and to complete a course on ethics and dispensing.

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