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Fitness to practise concerns up 28% in last two years, GPhC reveals

More than half (55%) of concerns received in 2019-20 were raised by members of the public

The number of concerns about pharmacy professionals raised with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has risen 28% in the last two years, the regulator has revealed.

The regulator received 2,985 concerns in 2019-20, a 28% increase on the 2,329 concerns received in 2017-18 and 12% up on the 2,674 concerns in 2018-19, the GPhC said in its annual fitness to practise report published last week (July 17).

“It is difficult to give reasons for the increase because there are many potential causes and there were no notable increases in any individual type of concern received,” the regulator said.

The GPhC registered a “significant increase in concerns” during the last quarter of 2019-20, “at least in part due to COVID-19 related issues”.

In April, the regulator shared that the number of concerns for March was up 56% compared to 2019 and 2018 – with 380 complaints in March this year, and 244 for the same month the previous two years.

More concerns from employers             

The GPhC report showed that 55% (1,627) concerns received in 2019-20 were raised by members of the public.

However, concerns raised by employers were on the rise, with 219 received in 2019-20 versus 167 in the previous financial year – an increase of 31%.

“All other sources have decreased, with the most notable decrease in concerns [being] from other healthcare professionals,” the GPhC said.

Concerns closed earlier

The GPhC closed 1,405 (47%) of concerns at “triage” stage – the point at which it considers whether the information is for the organisation to handle and if it has the power to carry out an investigation.

Of these concerns, 1,003 (71%) were closed “with no further action”, 321 (23%) with “signposting to another concerns-handling body” and 81 (6%) “with guidance”.

While the number of concerns closed with no further action has almost doubled since 2018-19, when it was 567, “most of these additional concerns are not about patient safety and don’t raise regulatory issues that we are able to deal with”, the GPhC said.

Fewer concerns (76) were referred to the investigating or fitness to practise committee stage in 2019/20, down 39% from 125 in 2018-19. The GPhC also registered a drop in the number of hearings from 63 in 2018-19 to 40 in 2019-20 – a 37% reduction.

What do you make of the figures shared by the GPhC?

Freelance Chemist, Pre-reg Pharmacist

I guess this will be due to frivolous complaints from the shoe shop, not sosuperdrug and co.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I expected a huge amount of these claims to be dismissed when I first heard of the increased in complaints. This evidences two main things with me:

1) A large percentage of people are not raising complaints appropriately.
2) A large percentage of people are unaware of what a pharmacy is obliged to provide.

Pear Tree, Community pharmacist

An increase of 31% from employers seems huge! Now I'm really scared working for multiples in case I'm referred for spurious reasons when there are no support staff at all in some pharmacies.

Farmer Cyst, Community pharmacist

I think you're worrying too much. Just make sure you never ever use your professional judgement to make a decision contrary to what your area manager wants and you'll be fine :-)

Area managers in large multiples are often highly experienced in the field of working for Carphone Warehouse in the past, and support the pharmacy profession by making sure any pharmacist who has used a perfume sample in store is reported to the GPhC for theft.

You simply won't get that level of managerial support elsewhere.

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Toe the line boy (or girl or whichever gender (or non-gender) you ascribe to yourself....), toe the line!

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

Once the cull of pharmacists and pharmacies is complete via, spurious FTP claims, remote supervision and hub and spoke one question remains. How will their subscription fees be replaced or will the remaining suckers be expected to cough ridiculous four figure sums to practice?

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Probably, but that won't be my concern by then. I've paid my last fee ever.

The problem is, it's very easy now for a keyboard warrior to find out who to complain to just by sticking a query into Google. Most of it recently can just be filed under 'lockdown entertainment'. Society has now got this dreadful blame culture we've inherited from America and I think anyone with any tiny grievance sees pound signs flashing up and goes looking for the compo.

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

I don't know if many pharmacists have ever looked at the GPhC complaint form. You may choose to remain anonymous if you so wish when making a complaint.
I think this is very unfair on the pharmacist concerned. How on earth can you get more information if no contact details are left.
A colleague of mine had an anonymous complaint put in by another former disgruntled colleague it turned out, and as it touched on mental health and substance abuse their medical records were requested. Then they suffered the humiliation of an interrogation by a GPhC appointed psychiatrist, even though they had received no treatment for 20 yrs, and also had the further humiliation of having blood and hair samples taken to test for God knows what. They weren't told.
They also found the PDA not very helpful, they just told them to do everything the GPhC wanted, like sending medical records and agreeing to the tests even though the complaint was retracted, the PDA did nothing to abort the investigation.

I seem to recall Theresa May talking about mental health and how it was OK to be open about it and you would not be discriminated against. I would beg to differ on my former colleague's behalf. It affected them very badly even though it was basically made up to 'get back' at them. I think if the complainant had had to leave their name and contact details to be questioned nothing would have come of it and my colleague wouldn't have suffered nearly a year of waiting. The GPhC move at snail pace on a FtP issue, getting medical records took weeks.
They had no contact with anyone for over 2 months. It was shameful how it affected my colleague. It was several years ago now, but I still think they never truly recovered from it and it affected their practice such that they reduced their hours and sort of semi-retired. It certainly affected their personality and confidence at work I was told.
This, all from an anonymous complaint that I really believe would never have happened had the bitter former colleague had to put their name to it.
I write this, sorry for the length, but I advise all pharmacists to be careful who they upset, what they put on social media, favours they may do people that could be turned against them, like an emergency supply that wasn't documented, anything that come back to haunt you.
Perhaps this explains why newly qualified are so very cautious???

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

All lip service. Mental health issues are a stain on your resume and hence nobody would voluntarily own up. As soon as something happens it becomes a stick with which to beat you.

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