GPhC: Outsourcing FTP cases is 'normal practice'
The GPhC says it passes fitness-to-practise cases to external lawyers "as and when required" but keeps the majority in-house, after it was criticised by law firm partner Noel Wardle for "shipping out" cases
The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has defended its use of external lawyers to deal with certain fitness-to-practise cases as "normal practice" for regulators, after it was criticised by pharmacy lawyer Noel Wardle.
Mr Wardle, partner at law firm Charles Russell, told C+D that he was concerned that the GPhC was "shipping out" cases to lawyers "who do not know anything about pharmacy". If these lawyers were not familiar with the sector then there was a risk they would miss information relevant to the investigations, he said.
But the GPhC told C+D it carried out its own quality assurance of any external lawyers it used and that it kept the "majority" of cases "in-house".
Mr Wardle said one lawyer acting for the GPhC had called him to ask about a fitness-to-practise case, and had admitted that he did "not actually know that much about pharmacy practice".
Passing cases to different lawyers also meant there was not a single body overseeing all the cases and "sharing ideas", Mr Wardle said. "It's all being dealt with by individual paralegals who don't have an overview, [so] you can't get a feel for what's [happening] on the ground. I think that's missing," he told C+D.
The GPhC told C+D that it used two firms to present some fitness-to-practise cases and undertake investigations "as and when required". This was "normal practice with regulators" and there had been no change to its policy, which meant the majority of cases were carried out by GPhC lawyers and "will continue to remain so", the regulator stressed.
If Mr Wardle had any "specific concerns" about its legal processes then he should raise them directly with the regulator, it added.
In June, regulatory watchdog the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) found that the GPhC was an effective regulator, meeting nine out of the PSA's 10 standards of good fitness-to-practise regulation.
In April, Mr Wardle criticised the GPhC's handling of the BBC exposé of pharmacists allegedly selling prescrition-only medicines illegally, saying the regulator was wrong to publish the identities of pharmacists given interim suspensions as a result of the broadcaster's investigation.