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GPhC seeks legal powers for virtual, private FtP hearings due to COVID

The regulator is considering proposals to extend these changes beyond May 1
The regulator is considering proposals to extend these changes beyond May 1

The GPhC is expected to be granted legal powers to hold FtP hearings via video link and may carry out some of these hearings in private from next month.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) should be able to “conduct meetings or hearings by teleconference or video link” following an extension to legislative changes brought in during the COVID-19 pandemic, it explained in its council papers published ahead of an additional meeting today (February 22).

Amendments to the GPhC coronavirus rules – which were laid before parliament and Scottish parliament on January 14 and are expected to become law from March 4 – will also allow the fitness-to-practise (FtP) committee to “order that the hearing is to be held in private” when it is scheduled to be held by teleconference, the regulator added.

These amendments are “intended to operate temporarily and cease to have effect on May 1 2021”, but the GPhC argued that it needs to be able to work “flexibly” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the council meeting, the GPhC council "carefully considered the proposals to extend some of the changes to our rules beyond May 1 2021, when they are due to expire", the GPhC told C+D.

At the beginning of the pandemic last year, the GPhC decided “to conduct urgent and essential hearings remotely with the agreement of the person concerned and their representative”.

Discussions on further amendments to provisions

One of the changes brought forth by the pandemic – which temporarily allows the committee to carry out an FtP hearing with two members only where “it has not been possible to convene a statutory committee constituted of three members” – should not become a “permanent” change, the GPhC argued.

The GPhC initially proposed in its council papers to extend this provision - which it "has not yet had to use to date" - "so that it expires on 1 May 2023".

However, following the meeting today, "council members agreed that we should not seek to extend the provision which will permit a committee to sit constituted of two rather than three members beyond May 1".

"We hope to bring an amended version of the draft rules back to our council for consideration in due course,” the GPhC told C+D.

In its board papers, the GPhC stated that it is “imperative” that if the further adjustments to the rules are approved, an updated draft of a new statutory instrument is presented to both parliaments by March 2, “so that it can come into force immediately before the first statutory instrument laid in January 2021 becomes law on 4 March 2021”.

However, a GPhC spokesperson told C+D today that the fact that the council did not approve the further changes to its rules today does not prevent the other changes – such as the virtual FtP hearings – from coming into force next month.

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