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GPhC concedes child cruelty suspension was too lenient

The regulator told C+D it welcomed the High Court’s ruling to overturn its committee's decision and strike Lynne Sidoh Onwughalu, registration number 2068609, from the register

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has admitted that a decision by its fitness-to-practise committee to suspend a pharmacist convicted of child cruelty was too lenient.

The regulator told C+D it supported an appeal by regulatory watchdog the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) against the year-long suspension of Lynne Sidoh Onwughalu, registration number 2068609, and stressed that the committee made its decisions independently of the GPhC.

The GPhC welcomed the High Court's decision last month to overturn the committee's ruling and strike Ms Onwughalu from the register, it said.

Readers posting on the C+D website criticised the committee's "huge error in judgement" and said the High Court's intervention was a "devastating hammer blow" to the regulator's fitness-to-practise process.

At the appeal hearing on July 15, a High Court judge said the GPhC's decision to impose a year-long suspension was "perplexing" given the lack of insight shown by Ms Onwughalu. The judge noted that the GPhC did not oppose the appeal and supported the PSA's request to substitute Ms Onwughalu's original sanction.

The judge also stated that she "could not accept" that the GPhC was not accountable for the decisions made by its fitness-to-practise committee and said there was "no basis" to suggest the committee was independent from the regulator.

Ms Onwughalu was sentenced to 14 months' imprisonment last year after pleading guilty to two counts of child cruelty. At her fitness-to-practise hearing in January, the committee heard that she delayed seeking medical help for her four-month-old daughter, who had suffered multiple fractures. All but one of Ms Onwughalu's explanations for her daughter's injuries were deemed implausible by the consultant paediatrician.

The mother-of-three denied deliberately neglecting her child but said failing to seek medical advice had been a "misjudgement". The committee concluded Ms Onwughalu had gone "some way" towards gaining insight and ruled to suspend her for 12 months with a review at the end of the period to determine whether she fully accepted her misconduct.

Locum pharmacist John Smith said the original decision was "unbelievable". "[The GPhC] has come out of this looking extremely bad. One could argue they have brought the profession into serious disrepute," he posted on the C+D website.

Community pharmacist Geoffrey Gardener said he was "embarrassed" by the committee's ruling, which showed that the GPhC was "not fit for purpose".

Pharmacist Jacques Gholan agreed the original ruling "beggared belief" and said he was glad to see that justice had "prevailed".

Read the full fitness-to-practise determination here.

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