Pharmacy regulator fails four in ten fitness-to-practise standards in watchdog report

The pharmacy regulator has failed to meet the standards required for its fitness-to-practise process in a report published by its own regulator, the Professional Standards Authority.

PSA performance review of the General Pharmaceutical Council

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has failed to meet four out of ten fitness-to-practise (FTP) standards set by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), an annual review has found.

The PSA — an independent regulator that oversees standards of all UK health regulators — published the review on 19 February 2020, which also assessed the GPhC on guidance and standards, education and training, and registration.

FTP is the only area in which the GPhC failed to meet all the expected standards, having met all ten standards in the PSA’s 2017/2018 review.

However, in its latest assessment, the PSA said it found “multiple” examples where FTP documents, decisions or the reasons for decisions were not recorded on case notes, which meant it failed to meet FTP standard eight.

Decisions were also inconsistent in some cases and there was “flawed or unclear reasoning” at decision-making stages, the review added.

The review included a detailed audit of 63 cases closed by the GPhC between 1 March 2018 and 28 February 2019.

In 75% of the FTP cases, it discovered poor customer service, which led the organisation to fail the GPhC on standard seven.

In some cases, participants were not sent the outcomes from hearings and there were examples where individuals were not updated about their case or told clearly how the process worked.

The GPhC also failed to meet standard five, designed to ensure that FTP processes are “transparent, fair and proportionate, and focused on public protection.”

The PSA’s annual review of GPhC performance in 2018/2019 revealed that the process followed sometimes “departs from the guidance in place” which had the potential to impact on transparency.

These were not isolated incidents, but occurred “in [several] different areas”, including triage and when informal guidance and warnings were issued, the review noted

The GPhC also failed to deal with cases as quickly as expected — causing it to fail on standard six.

The median time for FTP cases to be referred to final hearings was 93.7 weeks and the median time for a referral to the investigating committee was 49.1 weeks, which the PSA said was “high” compared to other regulators and time frames had not improved in the past year.

There were also “avoidable or unexplained” delays in a “high” number of cases, which the PSA believed was happening across the caseload.

GPhC council papers, published on 13 February 2020, also noted an increase in time taken to triage complaints owing to the regulator dealing with “the highest ever number of concerns”, with 765 complaints filed between October and December 2019.

Mark Pitt, director of defence services at the Pharmacists’ Defence Association, admitted that the findings of the PSA report were “disappointing”.

“But the way the GPhC has responded is encouraging — the proof of the pudding will be in a few months’ time to see [whether what it has promised] has made a difference.”

In a statement, the GPhC said it has produced an action plan which addresses the PSA criticisms and that FTP will be a priority this year. 

Duncan Rudkin, chief executive at the GPhC, said the regulator would “shortly begin a consultation on our FTP strategy, which will provide an opportunity for a fundamental review of our approach to FTP and how it needs to change to make it as proportionate, person-centred and effective as possible”.

In July 2019, a GPhC FTP report revealed a 15% year-on-year increase in the number of complaints it received in 2018/2019 compared with the previous year.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Pharmacy regulator fails four in ten fitness-to-practise standards in watchdog report;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20207730

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