The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) has written to Steve Barclay, the health and social care secretary, after the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) failed to meet all of its fitness-to-practise (FtP) standards for the fifth year in a row.
The PSA — the independent regulator that sets standards for all UK health regulators, including the GPhC — published its annual review on 25 September 2023, which stated that the GPhC had met 17 out 18 of its standards, failing only to meet the FtP standard on dealing with cases in a “timely manner”.
This review marks the fifth year in a row that the GPhC has been judged to have failed to have met all of the FtP standards. However, the 2023 PSA report stated that the GPhC only failed to meet one standard, an improvement on its failure to meet three FtP standards in 2022.
In a statement published alongside the review, the PSA said: “In recent years, we have reported our concerns about various aspects of the GPhC’s FtP function.
“The GPhC has taken various steps to improve its performance and address our concerns, including launching a five-year FtP strategy in 2021. We are satisfied that the GPhC has improved the quality of decision-making and the support it provides to FtP parties, and we are pleased to report that it has met standards 16 and 18 for the first time since 2017/2018.
“However, we still have concerns about the time it takes the GPhC to deal with FtP cases: it is still taking too long to progress cases through the system, and the number of open older cases has increased.
“Due to the serious and ongoing delays, we have concluded that standard 15 is not met. As this is the fifth year in a row that the GPhC has not met our standard for timeliness in FtP, we have taken further action under our escalation policy. We have written to [Steve Barclay,] secretary of state for health and social care, and Steve Brine, chair of the health and social care committee, to raise our concerns and we will monitor the GPhC’s work to improve its performance in this area.”
In a response published on 25 September 2023, the GPhC said it had updated the health secretary and the House of Commons select committee on its commitment and action plan to meet the PSA’s timeliness standard.
In September 2023, the GPhC reported its biggest ever backlog of open FtP cases that were at the initial assessment stage, recording a total of 701 cases.
Papers produced for the GPhC’s September 2023 council meeting said that the “headlines” for the regulator’s FtP performance in the first quarter of the 2023/2024 financial year could be summarised as a “reduction in productivity and timeliness in the earlier stages of the FtP process, creating an increase in open cases at initial assessment”.
In November 2022, the GPhC said it had received 1,118 new FtP cases between July and September 2022, the highest number it has ever received in one quarter.
In a statement commenting on the PSA report, Duncan Rudkin, chief executive of the GPhC, said: “We are pleased to have met 17 out of 18 standards this year and acknowledge there is still work to do in regard to FtP.
“It is an absolute priority for everyone at the GPhC to resolve our FtP cases in a timely way, first and foremost to protect the public through responding to the concerns of the public and patients, to ensure fairness and transparency to registrants, and to meet the PSA’s standards of good regulation. This is a key strand of our strategic commitment to deliver effective, consistent and fair regulation.
“We remain confident in our ability to take swift effective action where risk of harm is elevated. The PSA [is] satisfied that we continue to apply promptly for interim orders once we receive information indicating the need for one. We are assured that the issues relating to timeliness do not represent a risk to patient and public safety.
“We have put in place and are implementing a comprehensive action plan to deliver improvements in our FtP work. As a result of this action plan, [in 2023] we have successfully regained two out of three previously unmet standards. This was a result of a sustained programme of work, with clear recognition from the PSA in the lead up to this outcome that embedding change takes time.”