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GPhC defends policy of surprise premises inspections

Professional GPhC chief Duncan Rudkin (pictured) says that not revealing the date of an inspection will ensure what inspectors see “what normally happens”


The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has defended its policy of conducting unannounced premises inspections against concerns from pharmacists.

Although feedback about the new inspection regime had been "very positive" overall, GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin told C+D there had been some concerns over the lack of a fixed date for premises inspections.

But Mr Rudkin said he still believed in the current approach of informing pharmacies an inspection would take place in the next four to six weeks, without revealing the time or date.

GPhC chief Duncan Rudkin says it still feels right for inspections to be unannounced to ensure what inspectors see is "what normally happens"

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"We still feel it's right for inspections to be unannounced," he told C+D in an exclusive interview last week (February 7). "From the public's point of view, that's really important because the standards should be met every day, so there's an element of needing to be assured that what we see is what normally happens."

There had also been some concerns over the length of the inspections, Mr Rudkin added. But he stressed that the GPhC was continually reviewing the concerns and that the new model was still "in prototype mode".

Overall, Mr Rudkin said feedback on the new regime from pharmacists involved in last year's pilot of the inspections and the soft-launch in November had been positive. Views given to the GPhC would be compiled into a report, to be made public in time for the next council meeting in April, he said.

"From what I've seen, there's a growing awareness and appreciation of the standards and the approach the inspectors are taking," he reported.

The new regime sought to move away from a "prescriptive or rules-based approach" to look for evidence that pharmacies were consistently maintaining a safe and effective environment, the GPhC said on its website.

Pharmacies will be given one of four ratings – poor, satisfactory, good or excellent – but details of these will not be made public until the standards are fully in force later this year.

The inspections will look at five main principles: risk management, staffing, equipment and facilities, the delivery of services and the premises themselves.

Do you think the GPhC should reveal the exact date of inspections?

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Karl Legg, Superintendent Pharmacist

I would hope that the pharmacy I work in has the same procedures everyday, whether the inspector is due or not. The issue is whether the new regime is designed to drive up standards, or whether we are still in the "catch them out culture". If as I hope, the new inspections are intended to drive up standards, then the management of that pharmacy need to be available on the day of the visit, and this can not be achieved with unannounced visits.

Amal England, Public Relations

Duncan, you obviously believe you will find some bad apples, if you didn't then you know something is wrong...... it is a failure on the part of the GPhC, to a certain extent, for not getting to the root cause of the bad apples. Instead the GPhC likes to catch the bad apples red handed and then serve illogical fines and suspensions. The GPhC should work with and nurture the profession and not be enemy number one of the profession.

Daniel McNulty, Superintendent Pharmacist

I have a well run pharmacy and I am happy to adher to all ethical and legal regulations that are associated with my profession and patient care.
I no problem with the GPhC turning up unannounced as long as they do not interfer with the daily running of the pharmacy and ask anything other than the briefest of questions whilst they "see [ ] what normally happens."

S S Locum, Locum pharmacist

Peter Mcauley - u r absolutely right , there should not be any notice given for inspection.
I am a locum and some of the pharmacies have a complete once over ONLY after the letter arrives !!!! -

Roy Sinclair, Community pharmacist

40 odd years ago inspector visits were unannounced but local pharmacies used to 'pass on' that they had just been visited and so alert their high street colleagues. Despite fearing an inspection, I have always found the inspectors helpful, thorough and where possible supportive. Reports in the PJ only give the bare bones of any suspensions etc. and that makes some actions look like an over-response. Usually there has been a long process behind that to try and resolve any problem and avoid any action. Too often Inspectors are also heavily criticised where they are trying to ensure our reputation is maintained.
I would always prefer to know they were going to visit and unannounced visits an disrupt a working day considerably but I still feel unannounced visits are o.k..unannounced visits are likely, out of necessity, to be more informal and more supportive and that can only be a good thing.

Samuel Jacobs, Community pharmacist

Perhaps they should install covert CCTV in all pharmacies for even greater coverage .

Frederick David Roberts, Other healthcare professional

Pharmacists really must stop whinging, especially about safety and condition matters. There are plenty of my ex-colleagues out there who would leap at the opportunity to safely provide complete primary care for their patients.

David Roberts (Other)

Peter McAuley, Community pharmacist

Unannounced inspections are nothing new, they have always been part of the inspection process, either under the RPhS or GPhC.
I have had (in the past) police inspections of the CD cupboard & register, they have just appeared. Several months ago, the controlled drugs officer of the area team just arrived and did an audit.
We should all have our SOPs in place, our CDs balancing, our premises clean and tidy. We should not need to have a letter giving us 4 to 6 weeks notice to get these things in place. Or, are we ashamed of how and where we work and need the time to get things in order?

Michael Stewart, Community pharmacist

I agree broadly with the comments above. But at the risk of being lambasted and as a non-contractor.....

The point is the pharmacy should be running safely whether a manager, superintendent or locum is present on the day of inspection. It shouldn't require the explanations of the super to prove its running safely, it should be self-evident. RPSGB never gave warning of when to expect them within a 6 week period.

My best advice is to make sure your staff are fully briefed on the GPhC standards themselves and the inspection process - the inspector will be talking to them!

Perhaps, in the same way as clinical governance, appoint a 'Standards/Inspection Lead' - a member of staff who in the absence of owner/super/manager can signpost the inspector to any paperwork/processes that they might want to see.

One other point is that if the inspector feels there is an issue that needs addressing or they do not have sufficient information to inform their judgement they will make a further appointment - and this will be with the owner/super/manager. So you will get your say if there is a problem.

I know its easy for me to say, and much, much harder in practice. There are membership organisations out there giving lots of support on GPhC inspections - speak to your local representative.

Ben Reiss, Other healthcare professional

ofsted give plenty of notice, gmc give notice, cqc give notice....

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

Yes but all those professions pretty much stick togethe. Pharmacists on the other hand......

Peter McAuley, Community pharmacist

Ofsted now give 24 hours notice of an inspection.
I have a wife and daughter who both teach.

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

The feeling of Everything just being a grind increases. Hopefully Boots will object and there will be hope for the rest of us.

Mike Hewitson, Superintendent Pharmacist

Multiples can have head office inspection of risk management processes by appointment. Independents aren't even given the equity of being judged on a discussion with the superintendent or even the regular pharmacist.

Post Francis, I understand why GPhC want to be able to turn up unannounced, but can they really understand the culture of an organisation without speaking to the superintendent/owner? Two parts of the inspection: day to day safety, adherence to process, etc; and the risk management culture with the organisation. Instinctively smaller owner/operators have a good feel and understanding of their risks, which may be evident in a discussion with the inspector, but not necessarily from paperwork...but then again, paperwork isn't everything - saying you have to have paperwork for everything would be a prescriptive or rules based approach. Wouldn't it Duncan?

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

I certainly agree with Mike on the issue of paperwork etc when it comes to inspections.

Multiples can provide pallet loads of Manuals/SOPS/Record sheets etc to their branches that may tick all the boxes with a GPhC inspection but does that make those branches any safer? Quite possibly not. The volume of this paperwork and record keeping can be of such a magnitude that it is in practice unmanageable and effectively there just for show.
It is certainly no substitute for a Pharmacist manager that actually fully understands the Pharmacy they run.

Let’s just hope GPhC inspectors appreciate this fact when judging Pharmacies.

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

Well said. all the clerical and admin coupled with ever reducing salaries, and ever present danger of GPhC striking off for any slight misdemanour makes one wonder if it is worth it anymore

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