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Pharmacy regulation system not broken

There are going to be bad apples who take advantage of the system they work under, but it’s unfair to paint an entire profession with the same broad strokes, says Toronto health lawyer Elyse Sunshine.

According to a recent Globe and Mail investigation, licence revocations are extremely rare in all matters of discipline involving pharmacists. The Globe and Mail found that of 334 publicly disclosed discipline cases overseen by provincial pharmacy boards across Canada in the past decade, just 22 of them resulted in a permanent revocation of a licence and a number of experts in the health care industry say fraud is “rampant” in the industry.

However, Sunshine, partner at Rosen Sunshine LLP, says her knowledge and first-hand experience with the industry doesn’t reflect how professionals paint it in the article.

“Certainly there are bad apples in any profession but I don’t think you can paint the whole profession by a few of those bad apples,” says Sunshine. “It’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but to say it’s rampant, particularly in Ontario, isn’t fair.”

Experts in the article call for changes to be made to the regulatory system that governs pharmacists and improved government inspection of pharmacies, particularly in Ontario, where inspectors audit 100 pharmacies a year – the province has more than 4,000, the article reads. Sunshine says the argument being made that the College of Pharmacists isn’t doing enough to deal with its members and works to protect those it oversees isn’t the case by her experience.

“When these things happen, the public often blame the regulator and say the regulator is not doing its job or is protecting its own,” says Sunshine. “The College of Pharmacists is vigorous in protecting the public from things such as fraud. And, of course, regardless of what a professional person may or may not have done, they are entitled to a fair hearing as well. Revocation of a professional’s certificate is reserved for the most serious of cases, as it should be.  This however does not mean that the regulator “goes easy” on the professional."

Sunshine says the College is very transparent about how it handles disciplinary hearings with its members, “The role of the College is to protect the public and guide the profession, not to “support” it as was suggested in the article.  These regulators make sure the public is protected and this includes the public purse when it comes to cases of alleged fraud.  I think if you ask most health professionals they wouldn’t view the punishments as light when they’re issued,” says Sunshine. “In fact, generally speaking, professionals tend to be quite hard on their own.”

When the media puts pressure or writes stories like this the public gets riled up, says Sunshine, and it can result in more complaints to the regulatory body and more call out for oversight.

“What pharmacists need to take away from stories such as this is to be careful not to get lax with their regulatory requirements, particularly as they relate to record keeping and documentation,” says Sunshine. “Pharmacists are right to be offended by the board brush strokes that they are being painted with in this article but they need to also take it as a warning to make sure their house is in order. The lesson I would tell pharmacists is to be careful.”

To Read More Elyse Sunshine Posts Click Here
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