The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) has published its review of the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC’s) performance against the PSA’s Standards of Good Regulation in 2018/19.
The PSA found that the GPhC met 20 out of 24 of the Standards of Good Regulation in 2018/19, including all of the standards relating to guidance and standards, education and training and registration.
For 2018/19, the PSA decided to carry out a targeted review of Standard 3 (Registration) and Standards 3, 5, 6, 7 and 8 (Fitness to Practise). The PSA also carried out an audit of 63 fitness to practise cases closed by the GPhC between 1 March 2018 and 28 February 2019.
Following this targeted review and audit, the PSA identified four out of ten of the fitness to practise standards were not met. Although the PSA did not consider that the concerns assessed through the audit had resulted in incorrect decisions being made, the PSA report highlights several areas requiring improvement. These areas included:
- Improving record-keeping about fitness to practise cases.
- Updating internal guidance on triaging cases, including our approach to issuing pre-investigating committee undertakings or informal guidance and warnings to pharmacy professionals.
- Improving timeliness in progressing fitness to practise cases.
- Improving communications with people involved in cases.
- Improving reasoning for decisions at each stage.
In response, the GPhC has published an action plan setting out the improvements it is making to its fitness to practise procedures, many of which GPhC had already identified as priorities for 2019/20. The action plan sets out each area of concern identified by the PSA along with the GPhC’s response and expected timescales.
Key actions being taken include:
- updating internal guidance on triaging cases, including the approach to issuing undertakings or warnings to pharmacy professionals, and making sure that guidance is consistently followed
- an ongoing programme of training and development of staff to help improve timeliness of fitness to practise cases and communications with complainants and pharmacy professionals
- introducing peer review and quality assurance of decisions to take no further action at triage.
GPhC Chief Executive Duncan Rudkin said:
“We are committed to using this feedback from the PSA to reflect, learn and work together so that we take forward the changes and improvements needed.
“We agree with the PSA’s assessment that we need to make improvements in some areas of our Fitness to Practise processes. We have put in place an action plan to make sure that these improvements are taken forward as a priority and embedded over the longer term. We will regularly review our progress against the action plan and report on this to our Council.
“We will also shortly begin a consultation on our Fitness to Practise strategy, which will provide an opportunity for a fundamental review of our approach to fitness to practise and how it needs to change to make it as proportionate, person-centred and effective as possible. We want to hear from as many individuals and organisations as possible through that consultation.”
The Pharmacist Defence Association has expressed an opinion on the PSA findings. They have said that it is essential that any regulatory system retains the confidence of registrants, patients and the public and while all other aspects scored full marks in the PSA’s annual review of the GPhC, there were several issues raised about its fitness to practise processes. We welcome the fact that the GPhC have now published an action plan designed to address those issues.
The PDA specialist regulatory lawyers routinely advise and represent pharmacists and pharmacy students subject to fitness to practise investigations and they have said that they have a constructive professional relationship with the GPhC through which they highlight procedural concerns and identify improvements based upon the cases we are involved. They say this is to help ensure that registrants are treated fairly, and the natural anxiety associated with a regulatory investigation is kept to an absolute minimum.
Mark Pitt, PDA Director of Defence Services said:
“Fitness to practise processes are a necessary part of being a regulated health profession; however, such processes must operate to the highest standards in the interests of all involved. Regardless of the process being followed by the regulator, the PDA will always seek to secure a fair and just outcome for our members, including on many occasions getting the case closed without further action.
“Pharmacists and pharmacy students almost never expect to become involved in a fitness to practise investigation during their professional career, but when it happens it can have a devastating impact on their lives and health.
“I encourage pharmacists and pharmacy students to join the PDA so that we can provide comprehensive support at the very early stages of an investigation in order to secure the best outcome. The PDA is a membership-based organisation and only current members can benefit from our full package of support.”
Specialist fitness to practise solicitor Andrea James wrote an article summarising her concerns after the ruling. You can read the response by clicking here.