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FtP concerns from public spike as pharmacies see ‘increased pressures’

Open cases at the GPhC have reached their “highest ever” level, with its FtP performance given a “red” status by the regulator, according to its new council report.

An “increase in concerns” against pharmacists from members of the public are adding pressure to the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC) fitness-to-practise (FtP) department, the regulator revealed this week (September 11).

New GPhC council papers, published in advance of its meeting yesterday (September 14), said that the concerns raised by the public reflect the “increased pressures” on community pharmacies, such as “limited resources”, staff shortages and “supply chain disruption”.

Read more: Legal view: What effect are delays having on fitness-to-practise proceedings?

The regulator noted that the public’s concerns, which can relate to temporary closures or delays in receiving medicine, “do not always amount” to FtP issues or “significant system failures”.

In total, the GPhC received 1,277 new concerns in the first quarter of 2023/24 -  the most of any quarter in the last year “by some margin”, it said.

 

“Immediate threat” risk

 

Of the 1,277 new concerns raised, the GPhC was only able to “triage” 846, or 66%. This was 465 fewer than the previous quarter, when 1,311 concerns were triaged, according to the papers.

The GPhC said that this decline in performance was “due to reduced capacity from three vacancies” in its initial assessment team.

Read more: GPhC: Pharmacist handed warning over 'antisemitic' remarks at political rally

As a result, the regulator admitted that the “backlog” of 701 cases that were open at the initial assessment stage at the end of the quarter was “the highest it has ever been”.

The regulator noted that of the concerns it “triaged”, the number processed within five days decreased to 26% from 47% in the previous quarter, while the average time to “triage” a concern rose to 14 days.

Read more: ‘Spending spree’: PDA queries GPhC HQ costs ahead of fee hike decision

It said that the flood of concerns and the slow progress of the initial assessment team constituted an increased “corporate risk”.

It flagged that an “immediate threat” to patients or the public may not be acted on “quickly” by the regulator under these conditions. 

But it said that its vacancies had been advertised and will be filled in the second quarter, with predicted “improvements” by the third quarter of the year once the new staff are “fully trained”.

 

“Good progress”

 

The GPhC’s FtP performance was given a “red” status in the council’s report, indicating that it was a cause for concern.

Nevertheless, the regulator noted improvements in parts of the process, saying it had made “good progress”. 

The GPhC said that it had closed “the most number of cases” in the quarter, including 15 cases closed at the FtP committee stage - the highest number of cases closed at this stage “in over a year”. 

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

It also noted that the median time to impose an interim order at the committee stage - measured from when it receives information of a possible “immediate risk” to the interim order taking effect - improved to two weeks, exceeding its performance target.

And the regulator said that it closed 86 cases at all stages of the FtP process in total this quarter, its highest number since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report to the council noted too that it had managed to decrease the number of cases over a year old, which it said reflected “the improvement work and changes put in place”.

Read more: Watchdog raises concerns over GPhC's fitness to practise process

Concerns about FtP delays have been a longstanding issue. In February 2022, the GPhC’s then-chair, Nigel Clarke, said that the regulator needed to speed up its FtP processes “as a matter of priority”.

The Professional Standards Authority (PSA), which oversees 10 statutory bodies that regulate health and social care professionals in the UK, has been keeping an eye on the GPhC’s FtP performance for a number of years too.

In 2020, it said that the regulator had failed to meet its standards for FtP processes, noting that “expected improvements in the overall end-to-end timeframe for concluding cases [had] still not materialised”.

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