My tips for dealing with a fitness-to-practise investigation

"Don’t respond to the GPhC while you feel angry, hurt, shocked or upset."
No one wants to be subject to an investigation by the GPhC, but lawyer Marie Dancer explains how to deal with this worst-case scenario

When a letter lands on your mat from the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) explaining that they have commenced an investigation into your fitness to practise, it is a daunting prospect.

The first tip is not to panic. Take stock of the situation and get some initial advice. It can also be invaluable to get support from family or friends.

At the outset of the investigation, the GPhC will write to notify you of the concern received and to give you an early opportunity to comment. Don’t respond while you feel angry, hurt, shocked, upset – or however you are feeling initially. It is important for any response to be objective and measured, or you could seriously risk making things worse for yourself.

Strategically, it is often sensible to wait until the GPhC has decided if the concern is serious enough – and appropriately evidenced – to amount to a fitness-to- practise allegation. Many referrals do not get beyond this stage.

If the GPhC does take its investigation further, it will then write to you again, providing you with their evidence and setting out specific allegations. At this stage, you will know what you are responding to and this may be the best time to formally respond in writing. This is the time to make the key strategic decision of whether you accept, partially accept, or do not accept, the allegation.

This is also the time for some soul searching. You will need to consider the difference between denying allegations and mitigating them. If, after this process, you still deny the allegations, you will need to carefully state your version of events. It is important to be objective and clear about your position. You can be assertive, but be careful to still be measured.

If you accept some or all of the allegations, then you will need to take responsibility and explain what went wrong, but without making excuses. The key concepts you will need to demonstrate are insight, remorse and remediation. You will need to explain that you understand what went wrong and why, and that you accept responsibility for your actions.

It is important to consider the potential impact of your actions on others – including employers, colleagues, other healthcare professionals, and, of course, patients. The GPhC will want to see that you have properly reflected on this. You will need to explain why the regulator should accept your assurance that there will be no risk of repetition.

You should ideally get some legal help with your written response to the GPhC. The primary purpose of your written response will be to seek to persuade the GPhC’s investigating committee that there is no need to refer you to its fitness-to-practise committee for a hearing. However, you will need to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. The written representations will need to be prepared in a way that is consistent with how you will present your case at a hearing in the event that you are referred.

Testimonials and references

It is useful to obtain character testimonials and references from employers. They may not be able to appropriately comment on the facts of the allegations, but they can give their opinion of you as a person, including your honesty and integrity and, if appropriate, their view of your clinical competence, and relationships with colleagues and patients.

To be given proper weight by the GPhC, the author will need to explain that they are aware of the nature of the allegations against you and that their testimonial is specifically written for the GPhC.

CPD

It may be useful to demonstrate that you have kept [on top of your] CPD, to demonstrate that you are genuinely committed to the profession and to keeping your knowledge up to date.

My top tip

The biggest tip is to accept that you do not have to handle a GPhC investigation alone, and that there are organisations out there who will be happy to provide you with legal support.

There are also other organisations [such as charity Pharmacist Support] who can provide you with pastoral support to help get you through an investigation.

Marie Dancer is managing partner at law firm Richard Nelson LLP

3 Comments

Marie Dancer, Senior Management

Thanks for your feedback. I agree that members of the PDA should contact the PDA for help. I work with the PDA on some cases and they provide an excellent service. However most of my pharmacist clients are not members of a union and find themselves alone and are therefore not sure how to deal with the GPhC and I was really aiming the article at those who are unsure where to turn to or what to do. Hopefully there are some tips in the article that anyone in that situation would find useful.

 

Valentine Trodd, Community pharmacist

Thanks for the reply. I'm surprised most of your pharmacist colleagues are not members of the PDA - according to the website the union has 26,000 members, which accounts for about half of all registered pharmacists.

Valentine Trodd, Community pharmacist

Surely the not-for-profit Pharmacists' Defence Association (PDA) Union which most of us are members of (I would assume, as membership comes with the indemnity insurance) should be our first stop? Quite remiss that this doesn't even get a mention in your piece. Or would you rather we employ the services of a law firm such as yourselves?

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