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PDA in talks with MPs over expanding GPhC powers after BBC show

GPhC is expecting legislation that will provide it with a “range of enforcement tools”
GPhC is expecting legislation that will provide it with a “range of enforcement tools”

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) said it has been “engaging” with MPs about giving the regulator more power over employers, in the wake of a BBC programme.

The BBC Inside Out programme – which aired on Monday (January 8) – revealed that the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) conducted an investigation into staffing levels at Boots in 2016, following concerns raised by a former professional standards manager at the multiple, who alleged that its “staffing model…could put patient safety at risk”.

Speaking to C+D today (January 11), the day after he spent half a day in London, PDA chairman Mark Koziol claimed “a lot” of MPs were quite “upset” by the programme.

"We are now actively engaged with parliamentarians about this matter. Lots of questions have been asked.”

However, Mr Koziol said he could not disclose which MPs he had spoken with.

Mr Koziol alleged the GPhC is “tilted towards looking at and disciplining individual pharmacists” rather than those with more control over staffing levels, such as employers.

“The GPhC is telling us they don't have the powers to go after employers”, Mr Koziol claimed. “They [need to] get the powers required for them to do the other half of their job.”

GPhC's response

In response, GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin told C+D the regulator is expecting legislation to come into effect in 2018 that will provide it with a “range of enforcement tools”.

“Further powers for the regulator are a matter for the government and separately the government is currently consulting on reforming health professional regulation,” Mr Rudkin said.

He stressed that the regulator is “proactively engaged in the discussions with government, and others” about “how regulation can best work to protect patients and support improvements in the care they receive”.

The GPhC pointed to its standards for registered pharmacies, which say that pharmacy owners and superintendents are responsible for ensuring appropriate levels of staffing.

Mr Rudkin also told C+D on Monday (January 8), that the regulator takes the view that setting the right staffing level is “best done by the people responsible for managing a pharmacy on the ground”.

The GPhC added yesterday that its inspectors are in pharmacies daily, checking they meet standards “including that a pharmacy has enough staff to provide safe and effective services”.

“We make sure any pharmacy not meeting a standard quickly takes action to fix this,” it said. Since 2013, it has taken action in over 275 pharmacies – including 26 Boots branches – that did not have enough staff, it added.

PDA disagrees with approach

However, the PDA said in a statement released the day after the BBC programme that it “fundamentally” disagrees with the regulator’s approach to staffing levels being set by the “people responsible for managing the pharmacy on the ground”.

Mr Pitt claimed his organisation had come across “quite a lot of instances” where after raising staffing issues the pharmacist had received a “disciplinary” or a “hard talk about not being a team player”.

Who do you think should be responsible for staffing levels?

Sham Kiani, Community pharmacist

The PDA are perhaps the only last hope pharmacists have of an organisation that actually cares and understands Pharmacists. The PDA are doing a great job highlighting the concerns, and taking action! Keep up the good work.

Bal Singh, Locum pharmacist

I've got an idea. The GPhc contacts ALL pharmacists on their register and says they have to fill out the staffing level concerns etc in a mandatory survery. Said results of the survery CANNOT go to just to the GPhc but to an independant survey body as well, and the results are then released. Forces the GPhc to use the "power" and keeps them honest with the results. Thoughts?

Honest Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Excellent idea and something i really think we need to see being put to the GPhC.

The multiples will start panicking, and just watch the Area Managers become very caring and considerate individuals for a few weeks before the survey is released, then the moment it's over they will immediately return back to their arrogant, bullying and uncaring selves! 

Rubicon Mango, Academic pharmacist

I admire the PDA for what they do. But this is a territory, a dangerous territory one should not explore. Please do not be fooled, the GPhC if they so wish could easily solve this issue with workplace pressures and poor working conditions. However, they have had the oppertunity to do so, they havnt utilised it.

In 2011 David Cameron made a speech to state that the HMRC do not have the powers to tackle big corporations from tax avoiding schemes and it would require a change in the law to which a labour MP stated that if this was an individual concerned, the law and powers would be granted over night.

Be careful not to make the GPhC look like a victim in this, that they are helpless in all this. In fact they need to divert their attentions to owners ratherthan employees.

A dangerous line, once you cross that line and grant a regulator like the GPhC, theres no going back for employees. They will just abuse their powers and furthermore act like the dictatorship they are.

Valentine Trodd, Community pharmacist

Who regulates the Regulator? The PDA should be canvassing MPs to make the GPhC do it's job and stop scapegoating set-upon pharmacists.

CAPT FX, Locum pharmacist

I find this information so disappointing. There was so much excitement and anticipation, when the Royal Pharmaceutical Society was split, giving birth to what we realise now, was and is a Premature GPHC needing severe incubation and utterly devoid of the Powers required to function optimally.  

How can they claim to keep the Public safe when Corporate entities that own Pharmacies are beyond their control. I worked as a Locum in a Pharmacy owned by one of the influential untouchables. They had just bought this Pharmacy among many others and wanted to do a refit.  The refurbishment was to take over three weeks, and so a temporary Pharmacy was erected in one corner of this supermarket. The Temporary facility had no locks at all, it was right there out in the open. The Controlled Drugs cabinet was left out in the open because workers who offered to move it could only leave it at the entrance. Staff who were left to their own devices to deal with every aspect of this move could not push it any further. No room or facility could be locked so patient records were out in the open, the Controlled drugs cabinet was out there in public and P medications were being sold from the floor or basket and or shelves. This giant in the Profession was not going to spend on Merchandisers who would have done this correctly.

The Instruction from Senior Management was to continue operating as usual, which we had to do, otherwise losing our Locum Placements. The Supermarket was working as usual, so after the Pharmacy closed, Controlled Drugs, Prescription Only and Pharmacy only medications were at the disposal of Colleagues who worked the night shift.  No CCTV cameras were covering that area since it was a dead spot in the Supermarket. Dispensed Medications were out in the open, including patient medications records. I suppose if the night staff were inquisitive they would have done whatever they pleased. The Controlled Drugs keys were left somewhere in this makeshift structure where the morning staff would find them. They were out there in an open facility.

Senior Management was informed, and none of them turned up during the refit process.  The Local GPHC inspector was notified, and he said to visit the GPHC website and write concerns. If only he or she had turned up or if their protocol allows them to respond to such information, at short notice, they would have seen for themselves a PHARMACY operating as DEL BOY'S FLEA MARKET or like those open markets in Shepherd's Bush in London.

My point here to emphasise that the Owner of this Pharmacy had the resources and authority to dictate what happened during this transition. The Registrants who worked during this time followed procedure by informing and expressing their concerns to Line Management and the GPHC inspectorate. I hear people saying you should have closed the Pharmacy, but my answer is this happens in the fantasy world not the real world of Community Pharmacy. The people who say they closed Pharmacies are openly lying through their teeth and I am prepared to say it to their face. That includes the Superintendent Pharmacist of Boots who sat there and was spewing statistics that we all know are entirely incorrect. The Responsible Pharmacist never decides to close but what happens in Practice is that one is advised (bullied,  cajoled, threatened) to continue while they look for alternative staff. Invariably one always gets allocated poorly trained colleagues who will be more of a liability than the help.  

This brings me to another point which was missed in the BBC report.  The quality of staff in the Dispensary. There is no point in throwing bodies and improve the quantity without looking at the quality. In the story, I related above most of the Pharmacy staff had been in Pharmacy for less than 18 months. Before that, they worked on the Supermarket shop floor. What happened during those three weeks was the story of legends. Community Pharmacy was reinvented over and over again. 

This was a classic case where the owner was liable in every aspect, yet nothing happened. We may even be surprised the GPHC gave their green light for this whole process. This is why myself and other Registrants felt so deflated and defeated because most of what transpires in the Shops is dictated by the Owners of the Business and the Responsible Pharmacist Regulation has never been relevant in any way.

There is need to Regulate Company who own Pharmacies and consider them as legal persons who should be liable and subject to disciplinary action just like individual Registrants. Most Companies that own Pharmacies are so arrogant that they always threaten and bully Registrants by threatening to inform the GPHC. And when they do, their word still prevails.  My experience in this aspect is second to none, and in grave situations, they pre-empt you or beat you to report to the GPHC. This makes this whole process unfair because the person reporting has no Locus Standi before the GPHC and you can not challenge them on the validity of their accusations. Their accusations or allegations will be presented to you as Professional Standards desirable for a Professional. I can not believe that this exists in the United Kingdom in 2017.

I applaud the PDA in taking this initiative because the solution lies in Reviewing the role of the GPHC to enable them to regulate Companies that own PHARMACIES  as Legal persons in their right, who can be held accountable.  This will mean that they are responsible for the Number and quality of staff employed, the number and quality of utilities like Computer Hardware and Software. Imagine some Pharmacies still operate Windows XP, and the ETP scanners for one of the giants have never functioned ever since installation. There are there for show purposes only. Can anyone imagine a 2001 PC with 252MB of RAM? Also, imagine how slow this makes the whole dispensing process. The Department of Health was very generous prior to both ETP1 and ETP2. Check the drug tariff.

This Momentum to review the Authority and Powers of the GPHC should hasten, and it would be nice if all Pharmacists who care about our plight, approach their local MP and lobby. The solution is Political, and we have to deal with and trust the political element of the Country. The PDA has shown the way and kicked off the process, and the ball is in our court now.

Sham Kiani, Community pharmacist

Thank you for your comment! Great insight about the failure of the systems and daily challenges pharmacists face! The GPHC is pointless if it can not hold large multiples to account for unsafe practices that undermine pharmacy and patient safety.

Freelance Chemist, Pre-reg Pharmacist

wowwwwww that was a long read, I agree with you 100%! 

ps your post must be a record breaker

CAPT FX, Locum pharmacist

I love my profession, man. It makes me sad to see it being trashed by a bunch of Lawyers and some people who never did GCSEs. Yet it took me 23years of my formative life to achieve this qualification. We should fight relentlessly for our profession coz no one else will.

Myke Kofi, Locum pharmacist

What further "powers" do the GPhC really need to properly regulate and enforce the safe staffing of our pharmacies? It is not plainly not fair that the GPhC are much harder on individual pharmacists and techs than they are on the giant corporates who are putting shareholders profits far ahead of patient safety. 

Grumpy Pharm, Community pharmacist

So the PDA is lobbying on historical concerns of one of its employees? Hmmm....

Ilove Pharmacy, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

The GPhC are quite happy the way things are; sitting in Boots' pocket.

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

Why is the PDA (which does not represent me) in consultation with MPs about the powers my regulator should, or shouldn't, have?

CAPT FX, Locum pharmacist

Everyone should make an effort to make sure that the GPHC does its job correctly. By correctly I mean sanctioning Pharmacy owners when they break regulations. Why should Registrants be punished when they work in environments and conditions they have no authority to change in real terms. You can play your part too. I would want Pharmacy owners considered as legal persons, with their regulatory conditions which include paying for registration and penalties for breaking regulations.

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