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Watchdog ‘not yet assured’ GPhC has fixed fitness-to-practise concerns

While the GPhC has shown commitment to easing historical concerns about its fitness-to-practise process, the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) believes there is still more to be done, it has said.

The PSA – which oversees 10 statutory bodies that regulate health and social care professionals in the UK – published its annual performance review of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) last week (September 30).

The GPhC met 15 out of 18 standards of good regulation, according to the PSA’s report – which covers the period from March 1, 2021 to June 30 this year.

The three standards that the pharmacy regulator failed to meet fall within the fitness-to-practise category – standards the GPhC also failed in 2020/21, 2019/20, and 2018/19.

The PSA acknowledged that while the GPhC “completed the action plan it developed to address our concerns about its fitness-to-practise function” and launched a new fitness-to-practise strategy, the impact of these activities will take time to materialise.

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

This “means we have not yet seen tangible evidence that our remaining concerns have been addressed. We cannot yet say that standards 15, 16 and 18 are met,” the PSA wrote.

GPhC CEO Duncan Rudkin said the regulator is “very focused on implementing our fitness-to-practise improvement work as efficiently and effectively as possible”.

“We have already made significant improvements as part of delivering our managing concerns strategy, with more improvements being implemented over the coming year,” he added.

The GPhC is “encouraged” that the PSA recognises the “positive direction” it is moving towards regarding fitness to practise, he noted.


Too long to process investigations


The PSA report highlighted that the GPhC is still taking “too long to progress fitness-to-practise investigations”.

The regulator’s median time for progressing a fitness-to-practise referral to a final hearing had risen to 126.1 weeks in 2021/22, up from 119.1 weeks the previous year.

Meanwhile, the number of cases it had open for more than 52 weeks was 298 in 2021/22, marking a 108% increase on the 2017/18 total of 143.

Read more: GPhC to start anonymising fitness-to-practise case papers from October

The PSA recognised that the GPhC has introduced several initiatives this year to speed up its case progression, which include recruiting additional case officers and getting directions on complex cases from external law firms.

“The GPhC has further work planned to improve timeliness and we welcome its commitment to this,” the PSA wrote.


Support for affected registrants


The PSA also raised concerns on the GPhC’s work around providing support to those involved in fitness-to-practise cases, which the regulator is now addressing with the introduction of a new fitness-to-practise strategy.

“The GPhC carried out a dip sample this year to look at the quality of its customer service,” the PSA acknowledged.

Read more: Fitness-to-practise: Your guide to interim orders

But the sample size analysed by the GPhC was “relatively small”, focussing on the initial stages of the fitness-to-practise process, “so we are not yet assured that our concerns have been fully addressed”, the PSA said.


No concerns about education and training standards


The GPhC’s handling of the June 2022 registration assessment was heavily criticised within the sector, culminating in a student protest outside the GPhC’s headquarters in July after the regulator estimated around 240 candidates were affected by delays at different exam sites.

The PSA noted that what happened “was serious… but the GPhC is taking steps to remediate this and prevent a recurrence”.

“Consequently, we decided that standard 9 was met,” it wrote.

However, it added: “It is important that the GPhC avoids a repeat of what happened. We expect the GPhC to reflect on what happened and consider the outcome of the serious incident review to identify where the failures occurred.

“We also expect the GPhC to consider whether the delays disproportionately impacted any candidates who share protected characteristics.”


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