RPS president responds to speculation about 'finding of fault'

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RPS president responds to speculation about 'finding of fault'

Royal Pharmaceutical Society President Ash Soni has responded vigorously to online speculation about an adverse finding of fault related to his opening of a non-contract pharmacy in the Suffolk village of Stansted Mountfichet two years ago. 

“I have no objection to people wanting to know the truth of what happened, but people are now trying to challenge my professional credibility. Yes, I made a mistake. Yes, we’ve had a breach notice served. Yes, we are still trying to fix it.” Mr Soni says he wrote to NHS England before Christmas with further information to try to resolve things, and is still waiting for a response. 

The issue, which has been the subject of recurring interest on social media, concerns an application for an NHS contract for a new pharmacy Mr Soni planned to open in Stansted Mountfichet. The application, originally submitted in December 2016, was made under Regulation 18 offering unforeseen benefits, notably that the pharmacy would serve “as a vanguard and exemplar for new and innovative approaches to the provision of pharmaceutical services”.

Its premises are in the ground floor of a new build surgery in a mixed use building, which Mr Soni says is over a half a mile by road from the nearest pharmacy, Boots in Cambridge Street. The application was turned down in August 2017, as was a subsequent appeal in January 2018, but by then investigations were underway into dispensing at the pharmacy. 

The appeal documentation summarises a response to the appeal from Boots and includes the quote: “To the extent that dispensing of NHS prescriptions is being undertaken solely at Stansted pharmacy, and claims for such activity is being submitted by Copes Pharmacy ... this is unlawful."

Mr Soni says the pharmacy was operational from the middle of June 2017. He had previously asked questions of NHS England. “This was all verbal,” he says. “I said: ‘If you are operating a pharmacy, you can dispense from that pharmacy if you have a contract.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘If you are a hub, you can dispense from a hub.’ ’Yes.’ ‘If the hub can access the spoke, can you be technically the spoke?’ ‘Yes.’” Mr Soni says that, following that logic, he believed that because he uses a cloud based system and can access Copes Pharmacy remotely, he could technically operate as Copes Pharmacy from Stansted.

Mr Soni adds: “There is nothing in the regulations which says you have to do it [dispensing] on site. They are very specific about MUR and NMS: if you want to do them offsite, you have to have permission from NHS England. It doesn’t say that about dispensing. That’s always been the argument. It doesn’t say anywhere that you can’t.”

The pharmacy was operating incorrectly for around four weeks. “We got notification from NHS England by email and by text on July 13. I immediately phoned the pharmacy and said ‘stop’. There were prescriptions in the pharmacy and I said ‘you’re not doing them. Stop now’. We got notification, and instantly I stopped it.”

Mr Soni says the error arose from having the two pharmacies trading under different companies – the Stansted Pharmacy was in the name of Castle Maltings Ltd. “We were effectively using a third party hub; that’s what the breach notice is for,” he says. “As soon as they told me that was what the breach notice was for, I said: ‘Yes, you’re right. I’ve cocked up'.”  

Mr Soni says that in spite his repeated attempts to clear matters up, which may include the payment of fines related to the adverse ruling, NHS England has still not adjudicated on the breach. He says he wants matters to be resolved, including any sanction or penalty that might be coming his way. He asked NHS England last December for a ruling on the hub issue, but has yet to receive a reply.  “This should have been settled, ages ago, in whatever shape or form, and the world could have moved on.” 

Mr Soni says an administrative error at NHS England, in which paperwork relating to the transfer of the pharmacy into a limited company appears to have been lost, is not helping. “That’s been a year now, waiting for the transfer from my name to Copes Pharmacy Limited. Everything – bank accounts, GPhC registration, everything that could be – is in the name of Copes Pharmacy Limited apart from the NHS contract.” 

Mr Soni says he made the English Pharmacy Board at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society aware of the issue some time ago.  He added that he has already put considerable investment into the pharmacy at Stansted Mountfichet, which is currently acting as a collection point for prescriptions which are being assembled by Copes in London, with deliveries into Suffolk daily. He is currently investigating his options, which may include purchasing another pharmacy in the area to shorten prescription turnaround. 

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