GOVERNANCE Inquiry finds London committee breached constitution

Published: 06/10/2005 Volume 115 No. 5976 Page 8

An independent inquiry into the body which represents pharmacies in north-east London has exposed a catalogue of irregularities in its financial accounts and governance.

The inquiry was instigated by North East London strategic health authority after it received a letter of complaint from 87 pharmacy contractors about the conduct of the north-east London local pharmaceutical committee. It found there had been at least eight significant breaches of the LPC's constitution.

In particular the investigation raised serious questions about how the LPC collected levies from its contractors to pay the national pharmaceutical services negotiating committee, the body which represents pharmacists nationally.

The review found that the LPC continued to collect levies, including PSNC membership fees, totalling£500,000 between April 2002 and March 2005. But the LPC was in breach of constitution because it 'failed to make contributions to the PSNC... in respect of the period April 2002 to December 2003'.

That December, the PSNC refused to continue to represent the LPC because it had not been paid. The committee told the inquiry it had not made contributions to the PSNC because it had 'failed to respond appropriately to resolutions passed by the LPC conference'.

The report says LPC officers believed funds were held by the north-east London LPC in a separate bank account.

The review also found that the LPC 'removed the requirement to appoint a treasurer'. The committee's secretary, Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Hemant Patel, told the inspection team that 'the role of the treasurer and secretary had been combined in the interests of expediency; for example, when making financial disbursements the need for counter-signature of cheques was no longer required'.

But the review found that the combination of the two roles 'potentially brings a conflict of interest'.

Other findings show that the LPC failed to hold an annual general meeting for two years, failed to make its 2003-04 accounts available to its pharmacies and to the PSNC, and failed to report on proceedings for that year.

The review found that three of the seven local primary care trusts no longer regarded the LPC as representative of pharmacies, and two others said they were reconsidering recognition of the committee in the light of the investigation.

In a written statement on the findings, the LPC claims the review was 'fundamentally flawed' because it failed to take into account the LPC's original response to the inquiry.

'Throughout the period of the dispute the LPC has sought to resolve the dispute with the PSNC and is still pressing for its resolution by independent arbitration, ' said the statement. 'PSNC contribution from the contractors have all been paid into a separate bank account and there is a clear auditable trail to that account.'