Respected pharmacist suspended

A RESPECTED Morpeth pharmacist has been suspended for 12 months after falsely claiming more than £25,000 from Northumberland Care Trust.

Nadeem Shah, who runs the Health Hut pharmacy in Kirkhill, was hauled before the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) last week for a disciplinary hearing following the incident in 2006 in which he submitted false invoices for an online health project.

The 42-year-old, who has since paid back all of the money, accepted a police caution for false accounting in October 2008.

But despite the historic nature of the matters, the GPhC found his fitness to practise was still impaired.

Disciplinary Committee Chairman Christopher Gibson said: “Mr Shah accepted when he gave his evidence that his actions had brought disrepute on his profession, as well as on himself and his family.

“The public and the NHS have to be able to rely on the absolute integrity of all pharmacists and, in the circumstances, our finding is that Mr Shah’s fitness to practise is currently impaired as a result of his misconduct.”

The incident dates back to when Mr Shah was employed by Northumberland Care Trust as Head of Medicines Management between 2002 and 2007.

He had been developing an online project to set up an information system for the local health community and after presentations to the trust’s committee in 2003 and 2004 he began a search for an IT developer, with a free hand to commission contracts.

The pharmacist later prepared two invoices for MediSense, for £16,175 and £11,234, which were paid in February and September 2006 respectively.

However, when Mr Shah was made redundant by the Trust in July 2007 the invoices were investigated by the NHS Counter Fraud Service, which found they had been paid to his father-in-law Jameel Ahmed, who had nothing to do with the project.

It was later discovered that Mr Ahmed had passed all of the money on to Mr Shah, which he used for a business venture.

Mr Shah learned of the investigation from his mother-in-law in February 2008 after she became worried when investigators tried to contact her husband.

Mr Shah assured her that everything would be fine and set about creating false documents to support a story that Mr Ahmed had been involved in the project. Initially, he went along with the tale and when questioned by police Mr Shah denied any dishonesty.

However, in September 2008, Mr Ahmed confessed that the story and documents were false and a week later Mr Shah admitted falsifying the invoices and documents.

He said that the project work had in fact been done by a Kashif Zia in Pakistan, who chose the name MediSense, and the invoices reflected genuine fees, but he admitted that he had used the money himself for his own purposes. He then handed over two cheques to repay the funds.

At the GPhC hearing, John Elvidge QC, who was representing Mr Shah, argued that his client has since addressed his errors of judgement, admitted wrongdoing, accepted the caution and repaid the money, and said he has successfully been involved in practice since.

Mr Gibson said: “In our judgement this was a serious misconduct involving dishonesty.

“There was abuse of trust by Mr Shah when he was employed at a senior level. He compounded what he had done by creating more false documents and asking his father-in-law to lie for him and pretend that the false documents were genuine. He took steps to conceal what he had done.

“On any showing, Mr Shah’s actions brought the profession into disrepute, breached the fundamental tenets of the profession and showed that his integrity could no longer be relied upon.

“We have considered with great care what Mr Shah told us when he gave evidence. We have no doubt that he has been affected greatly by what he has done and the consequences of his actions for him.

“We accept that he has examined his approach to his professional and personal life as a result, and that he has identified areas where his approach led him into errors of judgement in the past. We accept that he bitterly regrets what he did and that his remorse is genuine.”

The committee noted a number of positive references for the pharmacist, but Mr Gibson concluded: “We are unable to accept that Mr Shah’s level of insight and development in the past three years is such that there is no longer any effect on his fitness to practise.”

Mr Elvidge said a warning would be sufficient sanction, but the committee imposed a 12-month suspension of Mr Shah’s registration as a pharmacist.

Mr Gibson said: “We find that public confidence in the profession demands no lesser sanction and that a message has to be sent to the profession in cases such as this to the effect that the conduct engaged in by Mr Shah is unacceptable and unbefitting of a pharmacist.

“We have been impressed by the number of testimonials that have been provided, speaking to the value of the service provided by Mr Shah in his locality. He is well-respected and highly spoken of as a pharmacist, and he clearly provides a valuable and effective service with his new pharmacy.

“We believe that a suspension period of 12 months is an appropriate and proportional sanction.

“In addition to maintaining confidence and standards in the profession, as we hope it will, we believe that it will give Mr Shah further time to reflect that his business approach, his results-driven approach, has to be moderated to a proper professional strategy in all that he does as a pharmacist. We also believe that this suspension will act as a deterrent.”

Mr Shah could not be contacted for comment.

Health Hut has no involvement in the case.