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GPhC reforms allow fitness-to-practise resolutions without hearings

General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) changes enable fitness-to-practise resolutions without full hearings on a consensual basis, says legal expert David Reissner

In a previous blog, I asked whether the days of the GPhC were numbered. In October 2017, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) opened a consultation on whether there should be rationalisation of the nine current healthcare regulators. The DH has now considered the responses to the consultation and concluded this month…that it needs another consultation before a decision can be made.

The GPhC’s survival – for now – does not mean it will stay as it is. The GPhC and all the other regulators will be restructured. Its council will become a board comprising executive and non-executive directors, with the non-executives forming the majority. Current and former registrants may be appointed to the board, but they will not form a majority. A proposal for employers to be represented on the new GPhC board has been dropped, but the government expects all regulators to actively seek and consider the views of employers.

There will be reforms “to enable [healthcare] regulators to place a greater emphasis on supporting the professionalism of all registrants, while continuing to take appropriate action to manage concerns about a minority of professionals”.

The most significant changes will enable the GPhC to resolve fitness-to-practise cases without the need for a full hearing. The GPhC will be able to:

  • use case examiners to consider complaints and resolve them on a consensual basis
  • include mediation as part of the fitness-to-practise process [where an independent person helps both sides to reach a decision]
  • remove registrants from the register automatically where they have been convicted of a very serious criminal offence in the UK.

If a case is not resolved consensually, the current processes will become more collaborative and less adversarial, because the government said in its consultation response it regards existing processes as “bureaucratic and lengthy, which can be frustrating and stressful for patients and their families, registrants and employers. They are also legalistic and adversarial, and this can be detrimental to the development of a learning culture”.

In addition, the GPhC will be required to update patients and family members on the progress of fitness-to-practise cases in which they have an interest.

The ability to resolve cases in a consensual way should be welcomed. Even though it is often clear what the final sanction of a fitness-to-practise case is likely to be, currently pharmacists and pharmacy technicians often have to wait many months for a hearing. Their lives are put on hold, and they and their families have the stress of proceedings hanging over their heads. I’m not convinced that making hearings less adversarial is a good idea when someone’s career is on the line, but that’s for another day.

Read the GPhC’s response to the DH consultation.

David Reissner is chair of the Pharmacy Law and Ethics Association

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