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GPhC: No automatic striking off for sexual misconduct

Proven sexual misconduct will not necessarily result in removal from the register, says the regulator's chief executive Duncan Rudkin, in a softening of its approach

There will be no “automatic outcomes” for fitness-to-practise cases involving sexual misconduct, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has ruled.

GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin told C+D these cases would be "decided on their own merits... as a matter of principle", in an exclusive interview on Friday (February 6). 

Mr Rudkin’s comments followed the publication of the GPhC's draft fitness-to-practise sanctions guidance on Thursday (February 5). This stated that removal from the register was the "most appropriate sanction" for sexual misconduct cases unless there were "clear, evidenced mitigating factors" that indicated a lesser sanction was appropriate.

The decision is a change from the GPhC's original proposal for sanctions guidance in November, which recommended removal from the register in all cases of proven sexual misconduct. The new guidance recognises there may be less "clear cut" cases in which this is not necessary.

Mr Rudkin said removal from the register would remain the "most likely starting point" for a fitness-to-practise committee considering sexual misconduct, which would then take account of mitigating factors and the context of the inappropriate behaviour. 

Sexual misconduct covered any instances of sexual harassment, sexual assault, the inappropriate or non-consensual examination of patients and “any kind of criminal offence covering a sex element”, he clarified. “We’re not talking about perfectly legal private matters, we’re talking about things that are completely incompatible with working as a healthcare professional,” Mr Rudkin stressed.


The importance of context

The discussion paper on the draft guidance published by the GPhC in November last year suggested that removal from the register was an "appropriate sanction" for proven sexual misconduct, even when no criminal conviction had been made. But Pharmacy Voice and the Pharmacists' Defence Association had "strongly argued" that "context was important" and there was a danger of "disproportionate outcomes" in some cases, the GPhC said.

As a result, the GPhC had amended its guidance to make it consistent with its approach to dishonesty, which requires fitness-to-practise committees to "carefully consider the context and circumstances" of each case.

The GPhC had debated whether it should introduce a blanket rule of removing all registrants who were proven to have acted dishonestly last year, but decided it should be treated on a case-by-case basis.

The final guidance on sanctions for both sexual misconduct and dishonesty will be published in May, following a consultation.

What do you think about the GPhC's stance on sexual misconduct?


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