The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) would not support any proposal to create a new single regulator for health professions who practise on the high street.
The pharmacy regulator said the move would fail to reflect the new ways in which patients today access community-pharmacy services, such as online clinical consultations and medicines being delivered directly to their home, which do not take place in a local community pharmacy.
The GPhC’s comments form part of its official response to the Department of Health and Social Care’s consultation on reforms for the UK health professions regulators which proposed cutting the number of regulators from nine to three or four.
The GPhC said it was up to the government to decide how many health regulators were needed in the future.
But it rejected any notion of a new ‘high-street regulator’ — an idea originally put forward by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), which oversees health and care professional regulators.
In its official response to the government’s consultation, the PSA suggested the possibility of a single regulator based on “similarity of working environment” such as the high street. The new regulatory authority could, it said, bring together the existing GPhC, the General Dental Council, the General Optical Council and the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland.
The idea was originally put forward by the PSA two years ago in its ‘Regulation rethought’ report, published in October 2016.
But the GPhC said in its response, which was discussed at its council meeting on 8 February 2018: “If the definition of ‘high-street healthcare’ means services available to the public in retail settings, that is in itself quite restrictive, and does not reflect ways in which access may occur.
“Within the context of pharmacy, services will be increasingly delivered online (both as clinical consultations and the dispensing of medicines), and delivered directly to a patient’s home, as well as a variety of other settings not on the high street, such as care homes.”
GPhC chief executive and registrar Duncan Rudkin told The Pharmaceutical Journal that it was not opposed to the principle of mergers: “We are open … to restructuring. We are not fixated to any particular configuration as being optimal for all time. Why there are nine regulators [for health and social care] is hard to explain.”
He said the idea of creating a single high-street regulator, which he admitted he had expected to “resurface”, had “superficial appeal”.
“It’s catchy … but pharmacists and pharmacy technicians don’t [only] work in the high street — they work in hospitals and other environments,” he said.
What was needed, said Rudkin, were well thought-out ‘design criteria’ for any future reconfiguration so that any proposals were “sound”.
In its official response to the consultation the GPhC said it remained “unconvinced” that merging regulators would save money and suggested instead that cash could be saved by existing regulators working together more effectively.
“The cost implications of reducing or reconfiguring the number of regulatory bodies needs to be set out clearly and weighed against the benefits for patient safety and accessibility,” its response said.
“There are many ways in which the regulatory bodies could be configured. The focus of any reconfiguration should be whether a new configuration can evidence and demonstrate better outcomes for patients and the public than currently.”