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GPhC must ‘hugely improve’ fitness-to-practise processes, chair says

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) must “improve the processes” of fitness-to-practise cases and speed up its investigations “as a matter of priority”, chair Nigel Clarke has said. 

Speaking at the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) conference in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham last week (January 27), the outgoing GPhC chair told delegates that fitness-to-practise cases currently “are not in the interests of those who raise them”.

The regulatory body has faced “significant challenges” in managing the fitness-to-practise process during the pandemic and has not been able “to do investigations as quickly as we wanted to, and we clearly need to improve that as a matter of priority”, Mr Clarke said.

“But we need to hugely improve the [fitness-to-practice] processes as well,” he continued.

The GPhC has “a lot of work to do still”, Mr Clarke said. “It's a long, slow process. But rest assured that we recognise that how things work at the moment is not perfect.”


“We don’t always collect evidence effectively”


Responding to a question from AIMp CEO Leyla Hannbeck about where the GPhC sits in comparison to other regulators on fitness-to-practise cases, Mr Clarke told delegates that the pharmacy regulator “needs to work more with third parties”.

He said: “One of the biggest delays in the system is when a complaint is actually being made to the police, which tends therefore to [delay] what we do. The police investigation would follow, and we would follow that, which can be very time consuming. We don't do communication very well with third parties.”

He also told delegates that the GPhC does not always “collect evidence [as] effectively as we might”, adding that “there are all sorts of reasons why it's sometimes hard to give evidence on people involved in cases”.

The regulator is currently producing a strategy and an action plan to improve on current processes, to promote and encourage “a learning culture” that allows pharmacy professionals to deal with any concerns and go back to practicing, Mr Clarke said.


Many cases arise due to “ poor management”


Over the course of the pandemic, the GPhC has received a “high number” of concerns, “which are quite frankly not fitness-to-practise concerns”, Mr Clarke added.

Many of these concerns are often disputes with employers, he said, adding that he is “acutely aware” that some fitness-to-practise cases “arise because of, frankly, poor management of the organisation”.

The learning points raised following these concerns “are not necessarily about the practice of the professional”, he told delegates, “but are much more to do with the way in which the service they're working for is organised”.

In June 2021, the GPhC presented and approved a new strategy on “managing concerns about pharmacy professionals”.

It followed criticism from the Professional Standards Authority which, in its 2019/2020 review of the regulator, slammed the GPhC for its tardiness in dealing with fitness-to-practise concerns, and the way it handled investigations and updated people about them.


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