All ethnicities other than white pharmacists were overrepresented in fitness-to-practise (FtP) concerns reported to the regulator in 2021/2022, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has said.
In its first analysis of FtP diversity data, the regulator said this also translated into the number of investigations carried out.
FtP figures show that Asian pharmacists made up 38% of the GPhC register in 2021/2022, but they accounted for 46% of FtP concerns received and 52% of investigations. Black pharmacists accounted for 7% of the register, but were the subject of 10% of the concerns received and 10% of investigations.
Meanwhile, 42% of pharmacists on the 2021/2022 register identified as white, and this group comprised 24% of FtP concerns received and 21% of investigations. The only non-white ethnic categories not overrepresented were those who identified as mixed race or who preferred not to disclose their ethnicity.
However, the analysis of concerns that go on to investigation also found that only the proportion investigating Asian pharmacists was statistically significant (P<0.05).
In its analysis, published on 12 October 2023, the GPhC said that for all FtP cases that were closed during 2021/2022, there was no statistically significant relationship between ethnicity and whether or not the case received a ‘statutory outcome’, which means that either advice was given or a sanction imposed by either investigating or FtP committees.
It also said there was no statistically significant relationship between the ethnicity of the pharmacist and the stage that a FtP concern was closed, which could be at the initial assessment stage, the investigation stage, following an investigation committee intervention, or after a full FtP committee hearing.
In its analysis of the data, the GPhC said that it received 3,073 FtP concerns during 2021/2022, with 722 unique pharmacists the subject of a complaint, and 250 concerns were investigated.
FtP diversity data from 2021/2022 were previously included in council papers prepared for the GPhC council meeting in July 2022.
The analysis found that there was also a statistically significant overrepresentation of male pharmacists in both FtP concerns received and investigations. In 2021/2022, 38% of the GPhC register identified as male, but this group represented 65% of concerns received and 76% of investigations.
Female pharmacists made up 62% of the register, but accounted for 35% of concerns received and 24% of investigations.
There was also a statistically significant relationship between sex and statutory outcomes in 2021/2022. Female pharmacists accounted for 35% of FtP cases closed, with 19% of those cases resulting in statutory outcomes. Male pharmacists were involved in 65% of the cases closed, and accounted for 81% of statutory outcomes.
James Davies, director for England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), said: “The overrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the findings raises significant concern. It is crucial for the pharmacy profession to address any disparities and work collectively to ensure fairness and equity in the fitness-to-practise procedures.
Davies added that the RPS also wants “to see greater prominence placed on reducing the delays by the GPhC and on the wellbeing of those involved being addressed”.
“We encourage the GPhC to continue monitoring and analysing this data to identify underlying issues and implement necessary changes to reduce these disparities within the profession,” he said.
In a statement published alongside the analysis, the GPhC said it had presented its findings to a virtual roundtable held on 10 October 2023, which was attended by patient, pharmacy and equality groups.
Duncan Rudkin, chief executive of the GPhC, said: “The publication of our initial analysis is an important first step in helping us understand which factors contribute towards pharmacy professionals being more likely to have a case raised against them, and whether our processes themselves contribute to disproportionate experiences.
“With the vast majority of concerns to the GPhC coming from the public, there are distinct challenges about how we get to the heart of these issues.
“We are continuing to make changes and improvements to our processes, linked to our [Equality, Diversity and Inclusion] and Managing Concerns strategies.”