Pharmacy regulator to blind fitness-to-practise investigations against racial bias

The General Pharmaceutical Council will trial redacting any information that might identify a pharmacist’s ethnicity from documents that are seen by fitness-to-practise investigating committees.

General Pharmaceutical Council signage

The pharmacy regulator is to introduce blind reviews during its fitness-to-practise (FTP) investigations in an attempt to remove bias from the system.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) will trial redacting any information that might identify a pharmacist’s race and/or ethnicity from documents that are seen by FTP investigating committees.

Cases are referred to the investigating committee if an FTP allegation meets the threshold criteria, and it can then refer the case on to a FTP committee. The investigating committee does not hear oral evidence, but it can admit written representations.

The GPhC pilot will begin in September 2020 and run until March 2021.

Data released by the GPhC to The Pharmaceutical Journal in 2019, following a Freedom of Information Act request, showed that almost half (47%) of the 200 pharmacists suspended or removed from the pharmacy register between 1 January 2016 and 31 December 2018, were black, Asian or from an ethnic minority (BAME). If pharmacists who did not provide their ethnicity are removed from the data, 57% of those suspended or removed were BAME.

Of the pharmacists on the GPhC register, 45% identify as BAME, 45% identify as white and 10% give no ethnicity.

Mohammed Hussain, senior clinical lead for NHS Digital and a former GPhC investigating council member, described the regulator’s pilot as “a major step forward in redesigning systems to remove systematic bias”.

“We know that unconscious bias has a subtle but powerful effect, and we know that blinding of personal details on applications, for example, can and does reduce bias,” he said.

“This is long overdue and something I had pushed for following my own experiences of sitting as a panel member for the investigating committee. There were rare, but clear, examples of a panellist airing assumptions about an individual based on their presumed belonging to a certain group.”

A spokesperson for the GPhC said: “There have been many reports that the BAME community have been over-represented at FTP proceedings by health regulators for many years.

“At the GPhC, the adjudication services team has committed to delivering a project to scope unbiased investigating committee decisions along with help from the equality, diversity and inclusion team. This project will be part of a broader approach aimed at delivering effective, consistent and fair pharmacy regulation.” 

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, July 2020;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20208179