Proposed new professional standards for pharmacists have been condemned as “Orwellian” by the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), which says the standards have been designed to benefit large corporate pharmacy employers.
The PDA, a not for profit organisation that works to improve the status and working environment for individual pharmacists, is calling on the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) to go back to the drawing board and start again.
“We do not believe that the proposed standards are fit for purpose in their current form because the appropriate balance has not been achieved,” says Mark Koziol, chair of the PDA. “A significant amount of work is needed to address this.”
The PDA’s comments come as the GPhC’s consultation on the nine proposed standards, which govern the professional practice of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy students, closed on 27 June 2016.
In its consultation response, published on 1 July 2016, the PDA criticises the standards’ tone and vocabulary. “The wording of the new standards is reminiscent of the language used by large corporate employers and is somewhat Orwellian in nature,” it says. “[The] GPhC has introduced the concepts of regulating explicitly the body language, tone of voice and the words used by registrants. It has also said that registrants must meet these standards at all times, not only during working hours. These were not features of the current ‘Standards of conduct, ethics and performance’.”
The PDA is also concerned that the standards “could be interpreted in an employer’s favour, to any end that suits them, in almost any situation”.
“Employers will use these uncompromising standards to make inappropriate referrals to the GPhC for fitness to practise consideration and that, more frequently still, they will use them to support their own disciplinary processes,” it warns.
The PDA response goes on to accuse the GPhC of failing to “tackle” large corporate employers. “It seems to have accepted, without reservation, suggestions from corporate employers as to how it should regulate pharmacists,” it says.
The PDA’s views and its wide condemnation of the new standards, however, are not shared by other pharmacy organisations.
For example Pharmacy Voice, an association of trade bodies representing community pharmacy, broadly supports the GPhC’s proposed standards.
It does, however, have reservations about standard five, which states that pharmacy professionals must use their professional judgement. The trade association, which represents the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, the Company Chemists’ Association and the National Pharmacy Association, says in its response to the GPhC standards, published on 28 June 2016, that the standard should be strengthened to take into account any potential conflict between a pharmacist’s individual belief and patient care.
“One area where there is the need for absolute clarity is with respect to the obligations of a pharmacist who may wish to refuse supply of emergency hormonal contraception on the grounds of personal or religious beliefs,” the response says. “The current recommended action – to signpost to another pharmacy – may not always be practicable.”
Pharmacy Voice describes the new standards as “more simplified” but adds that they take an approach that many pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and students may “initially feel uncomfortable with”.
As a result, it says the GPhC should provide additional guidance and professional support to help pharmacists, technicians and students work out the practical implications of the standards and how they will affect their practice.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) is “broadly supportive” of the proposals and welcomes the move for the standards to apply to pharmacy students as well as qualified professionals.
In its response published on 27 June 2016, the RPS says the standards are “clear and understandable” and can be applied to all sectors and stages of practices. But it wants to know how they will be evaluated and monitored and how they will be introduced.
A spokesperson for the GPhC says it has received a record number of responses to the consultation. “[We] are delighted with the level of engagement in developing the standards from people and organisations both within and outside pharmacy.”
The regulator is reviewing the responses to the consultation and says it will publish a report in autumn 2016, including its “response to the key themes raised by respondents”.
The GPhC council is due to agree the final standards in 2016.