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Watchdog raises concerns over GPhC's fitness to practise process

The GPhC failed to meet four out of ten fitness to practise (FtP) standards of good regulation, the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) has said.

Concerns over the “transparency and fairness” of some of the fitness to practise processes were raised by the independent statutory body in a review of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) published today (February 19).

The PSA – which oversees 10 statutory bodies that regulate health and social care professionals in the UK – also questioned “the timeliness of the investigations being conducted” by the GPhC, the “customer service provided to parties involved in fitness to practice cases”, the regulator's quality of record keeping and its “decision-making at the initial stages of the fitness to practise process”.

However, the GPhC met 20 out of 24 of the PSA’s Standards of Good Regulation in 2018-19, according to the review. The wachdog's standards cover “fitness to practise”, “guidance and standards”, “education and training”, and “registration”.

The GPhC said it will address the concerns raised by the PSA.

It met all the standards related to “guidance and standards”, “education and training” and “registration” in this year's review.

Triage process

The PSA analysed 63 fitness to practise cases closed by the GPhC between March 2018 and February 2019.

Having considered the result of this audit, it concluded that the GPhC failed to meet standards 5, 6, 7 and 8 for “fitness to practise” in 2018-19.

The PSA commented that the GPhC closed a “high proportion of cases”, 63%, at the triage stage of the fitness to practise process, “higher than the proportion closed at the same stage by the other regulators” the PSA oversees.

The GPhC’s triage guidance states that it only considers whether a case falls within its jurisdiction at the early stages of the triage process. However, the PSA said it was under the impression that the GPhC is “departing” from its internal guidance, as it is “considering factors beyond whether a complaint is within its jurisdiction when triaging cases”.

However, the PSA said that while its “audit identified a small number of cases where we disagreed with a decision to close the case at triage, this was not sufficient to suggest that the GPhC’s process in fact poses a barrier to concerns being raised”.

​Delays

The audit also found that the timeframes for cases to be considered by the Investigating Committee and the Fitness to Practise Committee are not “significantly different to those reported by the GPhC last year” and the “expected improvements in the overall end to end timeframe for concluding cases have still not materialised as we would have expected”.

However, the GPhC has committed to improving the timeliness of its FtP cases, the PSA said.

FtP process unclear

The PSA also raised customer service concerns in 75% of the 63 cases it reviewed. It found that, in some cases, the parties had not been updated regularly during the investigation process, or else that the process had not been clearly explained to them.

While the GPhC has taken action to address the issues identified in the review, the PSA said it “cannot yet assess the impact [this] work might have or when any improvements may be evidenced”.

Decisions not “well-reasoned”

The PSA also found examples of “flawed or unclear reasoning” during all three of the GPhC decision-making stages – the triage, the investigation and the Investigating Committee stages.

“Based on the evidence that we saw, we could not conclude that decisions made in the period under review at the initial stage of the fitness to practise process were well-reasoned and consistent,” the PSA said.

GPhC will address concerns

In response to the PSA’s report, the GPhC has published an action plan specifying how it will make improvements to its fitness to practise procedures and address the concerns identified by the PSA.

“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,” GPhC CEO Duncan Rudkin said.

What do you make of the PSA's findings?

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