Royal Pharmaceutical Society President Ash Soni has admitted making a mistake and defended his professional credibility after an NHS document emerged revealing a pharmacy he owned unlawfully dispensed prescriptions two years ago.
Soni (pictured), who told ICP he was running for a third term as president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, responded vigorously to online speculation about the incident, the details of which are contained in an NHS Resolution document from January 2018.
The document states an appeal by Castle Maltings Ltd, of which Soni is a director, against NHS England’s (NHSE) decision to refuse an application for Stansted Pharmacy to be included on the NHS pharmaceutical list and reveals the pharmacy was unlawfully dispensing over a three-week period between June and July 2017 because it was not on the list.
According to the document, NHSE confirmed on July 13, 2017 that “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.”
Soni, who owns Stansted Pharmacy and Copes Pharmacy, revealed he had been served with a breach notice.
“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,” he said.
The issue, which has been the subject of recurring interest on social media, concerns an application for an NHS contract for a new pharmacy 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 was on the ground floor of a building next to a surgery which Soni said was 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 the subsequent appeal in January 2018, but by then investigations were underway into dispensing at Stansted Pharmacy, which opened on June 12, 2017.
Soni insisted he had previously asked questions of NHS England about dispensing and hubs.
“This was all verbal,” he said. “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.’”
Following that logic, he believed that because he was using a cloud-based system and could access Copes Pharmacy remotely, he could technically operate as Copes Pharmacy from Stansted.
“There is nothing in the regulations which says you have to (dispense) on-site. They are very specific about MUR and NMS, if you want to do them off-site, 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.”
In June and July 2017, Boots UK Ltd submitted three letters to NHSE advising them of its understanding that Stansted Pharmacy was dispensing prescriptions without an NHS contract from its premises at Lower Street, Stansted Mountfitchet.
Soni said he instructed Stansted to stop dispensing as soon as NHSE had made contact about the situation on July 13.
“I didn’t know anything about this but apparently Boots wrote to NHS England and it was the third letter that led to NHS England contacting me while I was away to say ‘we understand you might be doing something you shouldn’t be doing and we’d like you to stop while we investigate further.’
“I was away. I was actually in Turkey. (Stansted Pharmacy) phoned me to say ‘there’s an email, you need to read this.’ So I read the email. I phoned the pharmacy and said ‘you stop now.’ Not ‘you can continue for the rest of the day, you can carry on until you’ve cleared what you’ve got. You stop.’”
When asked when he told them to stop dispensing, Soni said: “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.’”
Soni said the error he made was to have the two pharmacies trading under different companies, Stansted Pharmacy under Castle Maltings Ltd and Copes Pharmacy under Copes Pharmacy Limited.
“Because they are two separate companies, you can’t do hub and spoke,” he said.
When asked if he did not know that Stansted Pharmacy and Copes Pharmacy had to be owned by the same company, he said: “I’d forgotten. I’d bloody screwed up. I admit it. I screwed up. I don’t have a problem with that.
“I made a mistake and I have no question about that and therefore when they wrote to me to say ‘this is what you’ve done as a breach, this is what the problem is,’ I said ‘yeah, you’re right. I hold my hands up. I accept the breach notice.’”
Soni said Stansted Pharmacy is now owned by Copes Pharmacy Limited although the breach notice has still not been lifted.