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Judge denies PDA legal challenge to GPhC standards

PDA's Mark Pitt: Despite the decision, we are satisfied with the outcome.
PDA's Mark Pitt: Despite the decision, we are satisfied with the outcome.

A High Court judge will not permit a judicial review against the General Pharmaceutical Council's (GPhC) professional standards to proceed, the Pharmacists' Defence Association (PDA) has announced.

The PDA challenged the GPhC’s proposals for new standards for pharmacy professionals in the High Court in Birmingham on March 23 (see below).

In a statement published this afternoon (April 11), the PDA said the judge had decided not to proceed to a full hearing, primarily because pharmacists could not be considered “victims of the proposals” before the new standards come into force.

Responding to the ruling, PDA director of defence services Mark Pitt said despite the decision, the organisation is “satisfied with the outcome”.

“Seeking a judicial review prior to the new standards coming into force on May 17 was always going to present some practical difficulties.

“But we believed it would be preferable to seek a resolution before May, rather than wait and expose members to uncertainty and risk,” he said.

The judge “provided the clarity that was missing” from the GPhC’s guidance, and the regulator “will need to interpret the standards in accordance with the judge’s direction”, the PDA added.

“Real life and common sense”

According to the PDA, the judge confirmed that:

1) The standards must be interpreted in a way which is rooted in real life and common sense. If a pharmacist has not been polite in a domestic situation, they need not declare this in their annual declaration, unless their actions are indicative of a wider issue which could bring the profession into disrepute or call into question the way in which they approach patients.

2) The GPhC cannot apply these standards in a wider sense. The PDA will now press the GPhC to accept there will be certain patient-facing situations where the requirement to rely on courtesy, politeness and open body language simply cannot be observed.

3) The new standards cannot be interpreted in a way that violates the [European Convention on Human Rights] rights of pharmacists. These findings apply across the GPhC and employers. Should the standards be applied by the regulator (or an employer) in a way that violates a pharmacist’s right to a private life or freedom of expression, they leave themselves open to legal challenge.

GPhC concessions

The PDA also claimed during the hearing that the GPhC “accepted that the standards would benefit from clarification”.

The GPhC offered “several concessions”, the PDA said in its statement, including setting up a helpline for pharmacists to call if they are uncertain about notifying the regulator of their conduct outside of work.

It also offered to produce written guidance for pharmacists, as well as engagement evenings to discuss the practical effects of the new standards, according to the PDA.

GPhC disputes concession claims

However, the GPhC disputed the PDA's claims and clarified that "there is already a team that responds to queries".

"The GPhC did not offer to produce further guidance during the hearing," a GPhC spokesperson told C+D.

Find out why the judge branded the PDA's interpretation of the standards as "simply wrong" by reading a full analysis of the judgment here.

Background: why did the PDA challenge the GPhC standards?

The PDA took issue with a line in the standards – due to come into effect “later this year” – which state that they “need to be met [by pharmacists] at all times, not only during working hours”.

The PDA first expressed its concern with the standards in July 2016, when it branded them “Orwellian”.

At the time, the PDA recommended that the assumption that the new standards “apply at all times and not only during working hours” would “need to be revisited”.

“The expectations outside of a working environment must be different to those within it,” the PDA said in its response to a consultation on the standards.

What do you make of the judge's decision?

SydBashford Sold&Retired&DeRegistered, Community pharmacist

So if I decide to go OTT with the all inclusive holiday drinks, should i ring their number before, during, or the following morning when i sober up to self report?

M Yang, Community pharmacist

Perhaps the judge did a favour for the profession. No need for a lengthy and expensive judicial review when a shot across the bow will do. The GPhC is being forced to give ground and have a proper think about what it does. From the very start, it was clear to anyone with half a brain that every bit of the regulator's proposals was in breach of all the basic rights granted to us as human beings. The GPhC was just hoping it could get away with it. If it paid any attention, it would have realised the PDA can be pretty merciless. Must be humiliating for them, huh?

Bal Singh, Locum pharmacist

Hmmm. Is there any depth available for the grounds of the appeal and the wording, as well as the judges response?

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