The former manager of a Boots branch in Glasgow has been suspended for nine months for fraudulently registering patients for the minor ailments service.
Asif Alam, registration number 2070147, admitted to “stupidly and naively” falsely registering patients for Scotland's minor ailments service (MAS) between 2011 and 2013, the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC) fitness-to-practise committee heard at a hearing on June 8.
The regulator accepted that Mr Alam felt “under considerable pressure” to meet targets at the branch and had an otherwise unblemished career.
But it stressed that Mr Alam had acted “dishonestly” in trying to “relieve” the pressure he was under.
Mr Alam had been working as a manager at a Boots branch in Cathcart Road, Glasgow for a year in 2011 when he was told in a review that he was “underperforming”, the regulator heard. Mr Alam told the GPhC that he was informed that if he could not achieve his targets, the branch would “get someone who could”, the GPhC heard.
Mr Alam decided to falsify MAS registrations to reduce the pressure put on him, he said. “I didn’t know it was fraud, I thought it was a Boots numbers thing,” he told the GPhC.
According to submissions made to the GPhC, a Boots pharmacy of a "certain size" would be expected to have a certain level of patients registered for the minor ailments scheme, the regulator noted.
“Suspicious” MAS registrations
The following year, NHS Scotland Counter Fraud Services identified “specific areas of concern” relating to MAS registrations at Mr Alam’s branch, the regulator heard.
The amount pharmacies in Scotland are paid for delivering MAS depends on how many patients are registered for the service. The regulator heard that Mr Alam’s falsified MAS registrations had earned his branch £700, which Boots subsequently paid back to the NHS.
The MAS registrations at Mr Alam’s pharmacy were considered “suspicious” because 51% occurred within a minute of each other and there were “significant similarities” between the signatures of the patients’ representatives on the forms, the GPhC heard.
The investigations led to Mr Alam, who was interviewed by Boots on two occasions and then subjected to a disciplinary hearing, which resulted in his dismissal.
Since his dismissal from Boots, Mr Alam has been working as a locum pharmacist, the GPhC heard. His current employer said the allegations against Mr Alam felt "totally out of character" and did not "square with his personality".
Mr Alam told the regulator that he will now “only work for people who will not put me under the same pressure”. He has worked for “most other” companies since leaving Boots, and independent pharmacies do no pressure staff in the same way as the multiples, he claimed.
“Constant questioning” over targets
Mr Alam told the regulator that he regrets his actions, and now realises that he should have informed his line manager of the pressures he was under rather than acting dishonestly. “We were constantly being questioned on targets,” he told the GPhC.
The GPhC accepted that Mr Alam had shown insight into his conduct, had reported the case to the regulator himself and had remedied his failings. It stressed that there is “no real risk” of his actions reoccurring, and that he had “not set out” to defraud the NHS.
But it said that Mr Alam’s actions were “too serious” to justify giving him a warning, and ruled to suspend him for nine months.
Read the full determination here.
Read Boots' response to Mr Alam's allegations here.