Government plans to allow independents to operate a hub-and-spoke model could discriminate against women, a leading lawyer has warned.
The Department of Health (DH) admitted last week (March 22) that the increased use of dispensing hubs will put some pharmacy technicians out of a job.
Because 90% of technicians are female, the plans will affect women “disproportionately", the DH said in its consultation document about the plans.
Plans "potentially discriminatory"
David Reissner, partner at Charles Russell Speechlys LLP, said the proposals put forward by the government are "potentially discriminatory".
The Equality Act 2010 protects against discrimination based on certain "protected characteristics", including gender.
It also protects against indirect discrimination, which occurs when a policy applies to everyone in the same way, but has a worse effect on a particular group, such as women.
Mr Reissner said that such discrimination would be allowed if the government “could establish that this was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.”
But he warned: "Even if the government could avoid a legal challenge, the way the hub-and-spoke proposals are presented appears inconsistent with [its] own policy on discrimination."
The Equality Act allows individuals discriminated against by a policy to take action in the civil courts.
“It is too soon to tell”
Employment lawyer Nina Khuffash told C+D it is "too soon to tell" whether the government's proposals discriminate against women.
The plans "could be seen as discriminatory", but if the government properly "considers the impact" of a move to hub-and-spoke then it would be protected from court action.
“We will have to wait and see. The consultation document has thought about the potential impact, and [the government has] asked interested parties about their views,” Ms Khuffash said.
APTUK: No discrimination in plans
Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK (APTUK) president Tess Fenn told C+D that she “did not see discrimination” in the DH’s proposals.
"It may affect the process of dispensing and I think it is a problem for the profession – it just so happens the profession has more women as workers,” she said.
Her organisation will “most definitely be responding to the consultation”, she added.