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PDA demands axe for GPhC after inspection numbers collapse

The  Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has repeated its call for the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) to be stripped of its role as pharmacy premises regulator amid a sharp drop in inspections. 

According to a report published by the PDA on Thursday (June 20), the trade union has called for the Care Services Commission (CQC), which regulates other healthcare premises, to take over premises regulation in England from the GPhC, repeating a call made at the parliamentary pharmacy inquiry by its chair Mark Koziol in January.

The PDA added that the GPhC should be replaced as premises regulator by the Care Inspectorate in Scotland and the Health Inspectorate in Wales.

According to the PDA’s calculations, the regulator’s rate of inspections has declined so dramatically that a pharmacy would only expect to have a routine inspection “once every 15-17 years”, despite there being 1,000 fewer pharmacies than in 2019.

Read More: CQC should replace GPhC as pharmacy premises regulator, MPs told

According to tables drawn from the regulator’s data, routine inspections have dropped dramatically since 2019, from 3,667 to just 878 in the 2023 financial year.

The PDA estimated that just 950 routine inspections took place in 2024 - 2,717 fewer than in 2019.

All the while, the trade union notes that concerns received by the GPhC have seen a “significant” rise of 56%, some of which could be attributed to “the standards of the pharmacy premises and the actions of the pharmacy owner”.

“Intelligence-led” inspections prioritised

But the GPhC has defended the drop in routine inspections. A spokesperson for the GPhC told C+D that the regulator was prioritising “intelligence-led inspections” rather than routine inspections.

Read More: Pharmacist issued warning after baby ‘tragically’ overdosed on morphine

“The vast majority of pharmacies (around 85% typically) do meet all the standards when inspected,” said the GPhC spokesperson.

Nevertheless, the GPhC is reviewing its inspection process “to deploy a more risk-based methodology”, “developing a new enforcement strategy” and is “exploring” means by which it can “strengthen how we use our enforcement powers”, according to its spokesperson.

C+D’s calculations show the rate of pharmacies that meet the regulator’s standards in routine inspections is relatively stable across the five years of data presented by the PDA, with 14% needing “action plans” in 2019 compared to 15% in 2024.

Staff reports

The PDA takes particular aim at the manner in which the regulator examines staff levels, calling the criteria “unclear”, with many reports “generically” stating that a pharmacy has “enough staff for the services provided”.

Read More: Trainee prescribers: GPhC to allow ‘virtual supervision’ by DPPs

The report says the “role of the regulator is to protect the public and ensure that providers that provide NHS funded care have enough trained staff to safely deliver these services”. But it said staff level “does not seem to be a concern within these inspection reports”.

It adds premises in which staff are “too busy” to be properly trained are deemed to have met the GPhC’s standards for staffing.

The PDA notes the GPhC’s evaluation of staffing levels in its reports are in “stark contrast” even to Community Pharmacy England (CPE), which represents the interests of pharmacy owners and has drawn attention to “significant staff shortages”.

The GPhC spokesperson acknowledged the PDA’s complaints about how it reports on staffing. They said that it was looking to improve how its inspectors “capture” staffing issues in reports.

Read More: ‘Clear message’: GPhC issues warnings for prescribing via online questionnaires

However it pushed back on a call to set staffing levels. It said such needs were “unique to each individual pharmacy” and that with changes to the profession, such levels “might quickly become outdated”.

FTP concerns

The PDA’s critique comes as the GPhC once again failed to meet its standards for its fitness-to-practise (FtP) department, as it received a record 5,477 concerns in 2023/24, according to its June council papers.

Ahead of its June meeting, the GPhC also revealed that it will allow designated prescribing practitioners (DPPs) to virtually supervise trainee prescribing pharmacists “where appropriate” as it tries to ensure there are “enough” supervisors ahead of 2025/26.

Read More: Covert surveillance: GPhC may abandon ‘never used’ spying powers

Last week (June 19) Scottish legislation came into force that closed a regulatory gap that allowed registered pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to practise in unregulated private clinics.

The legislative amendment will empower Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) to “regulate independent clinics where services are provided by pharmacists and pharmacy technicians“ said ts policy note.


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