World news wrapup: 26 November 2020


Pharmacist allegedly replaced medicines with baking soda; grad exams postponed again; fraud sentence for three

Southern Israel: Israel’s Health Ministry is reportedly investigating a pharmacist who is facing allegations that he replaced medicines ingredients with baking soda.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the pharmacist, who works for one of the country’s largest health maintenance organisations, is suspected of having emptied out the contents of a large number of capsules, and replaced the filling with baking soda.

He then allegedly repackaged the medicines to sell to patients.

The Ministry is reportedly attempting to ascertain how many people received the adulterated medicines and what, if any, impact this has had on their health.

The HMO in question became suspicious when it appeared one of their pharmacists was not following standard procedures, and upon discovering the alleged activity, reported him to the Health Ministry.

The Post reports that the Ministry expects to contact law enforcement about the issue.

 

Toronto, Ontario: Exams for graduate pharmacists have been postponed a second time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reports the Toronto CityNews – causing fears of a shortage of workers.

“This as pharmacies say they are short-handed and reliant on these graduates entering the workforce,” reported journalist Faiza Amin.

Graduates said that the examination was cancelled only 48 hours before it was to take place, and have complained that test administrators had had six months to prepare ahead of the rescheduled examinations.

The exams are expected to be rescheduled by February, as regulators search for a solution to holding the exams during the pandemic.

Pharmacists and grads say there is a “quick fix – provide temporary licenses,” Ms Amin said, similar to other jurisdictions such as Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. This would allow them to practise at full scope at a full wage, as long as a pharmacist is on site to help them if necessary.

In the meantime, graduates say they feel exploited, as they have completed their studies, but as they cannot work or be paid as pharmacists, they are working for little more than minimum wage.

 

England, UK: England’s number of pharmacies has dropped to its lowest since 2015, reports Chemist + Druggist.

The last five years has seen a 63% increase in community pharmacy closures, according to a report from the NHS Business Services Authority.

The General Pharmaceutical Services in England 2015/6 – 2019/20 report found that 405 community pharmacies closed in 2019/20, compared to 248 in 2015/6.

The number of community pharmacies opened in 2019-20 was down, to 239 from 252 five years ago – a drop of 5%.

The total number of community pharmacies in England in 2019/20 was 11,826, compared to 11,949 in 2015/6.

Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) CEO Leyla Hannbeck told C+D that the organisation is surprised there have not been more closures, “despite the very difficult financial position that the current funding model has forced pharmacies into”.

“Our members are clearly going above and beyond in delivering services and healthcare while dealing with increasing dispensing volumes and associated issues, such as shortages,” she said.

This “cannot go on indefinitely without pharmacy closures disrupting the national pharmacy network”.

 

Atlanta, Georgia: Three pharmacy owners and operators have been sentenced over their roles in a US$4 million (AUD$5,436,460) fraud, reports All On Georgia.

Pauline Mediko Badiki and Ferdinand Mediko, siblings who owned the Poly-Plex Pharmacy in Bankhead, and Monica Mediko, Ferdinand Mediko’s wife – who worked there as a pharmacy technician – were reportedly buying vouchers from low-income people at a discount and then fraudulently seeking reimbursement from the federal government, at a higher dollar amount than if they had really served those people.

The vouchers were from the state’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and were intended for the acquisition of nutritious food for low-income people.

The Poly-Plex pharmacy had been an authorised vendor of the WIC system since 2005.

Between 2009 and June 2013 – at least – the defendants had been buying the vouchers for a “fraction” of their face value and depositing them in their bank accounts as though the food had been provided.

The Poly-Plex received around US$6.5 million in reimbursements for these vouchers, around $4 million of which were fraudulent.

Ms Badiki and Mr Mediko were sentenced to four years and six months in prison, and Ms Mediko to three years.

They were all sentenced to two years each of supervised release and are expected to be ordered to pay restitution in an as-yet-undetermined amount.

“The defendants abused a program intended to assist those most in need and diverted public funds to satisfy their own greed,” said US Attorney Byung J “BJay” Pak.

“Vendors who buy WIC vouchers abuse the trust placed in them to serve pregnant woman and young children, and they will be shut down and prosecuted.”

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