Pharmacy regulator proposes speeding up fitness-to-practise decisions by making more enquiries earlier

The General Pharmaceutical Council has said it needs “to understand more about why black, Asian and minority ethnic professionals are disproportionately represented in the concerns” it receives and progresses.

General Pharmaceutical Council signage

More enquiries could be made earlier in the fitness-to-practise (FTP) process to ensure some concerns are dealt with more quickly, under a new strategy proposed by the pharmacy regulator.

The draft strategy, ‘Fitness to practise: Ensuring patient safety, driving learning and improvement’, published in advance of a General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) meeting on 9 July 2020, follows the regulator’s commitment to review its approach to FTP in light of concerns raised by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) in February 2020.

The GPhC failed to meet FTP standards set by the PSA, including failing to deal with cases as quickly as expected.

However, the regulator said in the strategy that “making more enquiries in the early stages of our process after receiving a concern … will help us ensure the right concerns are investigated and those that can be resolved through alternative means are dealt with quicker”.

The enquiries it is proposing to carry out earlier in the process include assessing “the impact of the concern on patient/public safety”, “the availability of sufficient evidence to support an allegation of impaired fitness to practise” and “whether there are any wider systems issues or considerations”.

Following these initial enquiries, the GPhC said it would then consider whether the information obtained suggests “potential grounds for investigating whether a pharmacy professional’s FTP may be impaired”.

When closing concerns, the strategy also proposes a broader set of options for the regulator to use, including writing a reflective piece, mediation and possibly a “wider use of voluntary removal from the register in appropriate cases”.

Mark Pitt, director of defence services at the Pharmacists’ Defence Association, said the draft strategy “is an encouraging start” to dealing with the issues raised by the PSA.

He added that the consultation on the strategy must address the mental health of registrants going through the FTP processes.

“We know from our experience in dealing with lots of these investigations, the stress and anxiety that is placed on registrants undergoing FTP is very high and, therefore, anything that the process can do to reduce that is important,” he said.

The draft strategy proposes the GPhC carries out a “short assessment that records the needs of any person involved in the process”, including mental illness or communication needs to “provide an initial indication of whether there are any potentially vulnerable witnesses”.

The GPhC also established that it needs “to understand more about why BAME professionals are disproportionately represented in the concerns we receive and those that progress through the process”.

In September 2018, the GPhC released data, which showed that Asian and black pharmacists are overrepresented in the number of FTP concerns raised against them.

Nigel Clarke, chair of the GPhC, later expressed concern over data revealed by The Pharmaceutical Journal
, which highlighted the high proportion of BAME pharmacists removed from the register between 2016 and 2018, compared with white pharmacists.

Pitt said the PDA believed “this warrants a thorough review and serious attention to ensure fairness and transparency in FTP processes for all registrants”.

Once the GPhC council has agreed the draft strategy, it will be published for consultation lasting 12 weeks.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ July 2020, Vol 305, No 7939;305(7939):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20208155

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