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GPhC pushes for covert surveillance powers

Practice The GPhC could be granted powers to carry out mystery shopping tests in the wake of the BBC's exposé on illegal POM sales, if talks with government go to plan.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is in talks with the government over plans to carry out mystery shopping tests on pharmacies, the regulator's chief executive Duncan Rudkin has revealed.

At present, legislation only allows the GPhC to conduct open test purchases, which could be seen as a blind spot for the regulator, Mr Rudkin told C+D in an exclusive interview on Friday.

Having covert powers, such as mystery shopping tests, would enable the GPhC to "leave no stone unturned", it said

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"We've had discussions about potentially being given access to [covert] powers because obviously we want to leave no stone unturned where we need to be doing that," he said.

The revelation came after a BBC investigation exposed nine London pharmacies illegally selling POMs such as temazepam and valium for cash in December, in test purchases made by an undercover reporter. At the time, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham criticised pharmacy regulation for failing to be "tough enough" and the BBC highlighted that the GPhC did not conduct secret shopper tests without prior suspicion of misconduct.

But the GPhC revealed it had been talking to the government about gaining further powers in this area - similar to local authorities - just before the story broke. And Mr Rudkin said the council had debated whether it was using "every opportunity" to conduct necessary investigations at its meeting last week (February 7).

"The kind of investigative techniques the BBC used were something that we, as a regulator, are not able to do," Mr Rudkin explained. "We can conduct test purchases, but they have to be overt."

"Some regulators do have additional powers to use covert surveillance and covert intelligence sources," he said. "The other healthcare regulators don't have those powers so, in a sense, we're not alone – we just need to discuss with the government whether there may be a case for us to have [them] because of our particular role."

How do you feel about the GPhC using covert surveillance techniques?

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Amal England, Public Relations

Firstly it is disgusting to hear about Duncan contemplating covert surveillance, is he having a laugh? How unprofessional and how backward and how totally silly to have covert inspection. Do those at the GPhC have no intelligence to come up with a reasonable means to catch the insignificant number of baddies? I would like to announce covert surveillance of the GPhC and PSNC as they are stealing and destroying pharmacy and pharmacist's lively hood. How will the surveillance be carried out? Where will it stop? This is sickening.

Sue Per, Locum pharmacist

Yes we do need covert Surveillance, and it will definately raise the standards, and flush out the "cowboys" in the system, and don't be surprised to find a lot of them in large orgnisations that portray an image of being "Whiter than White". !!

Freelance Pharmacist, Academic pharmacist

This is some screwed up profession.

*This post has been edited for legal reasons.

S S Locum, Locum pharmacist

more unannounced Inspector visits too !
Some of the pharmacies are not fit enough to operate

max falconer, Superintendent Pharmacist

Why does anyone still want to become a pharmacist? The mystery deepens....
Get suspended for your dealings with a mobile phone company, long, anti-social working hours, Bad for the health as difficult to visit your GP or dentist. High levels of stress with ever increasing paperwork compliance requirements. Drastic cuts in remuneration for contractors and falling rates and shortage of jobs for employees. Now we could be spied on......

S S Locum, Locum pharmacist

agree with MAX. why does anyone want to become a pharmacist nowadays ?

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