Solicitor Andrea James explains the most common reasons pharmacists appear before the General Pharmaceutical Council
As a specialist General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) defence lawyer, one of the questions I'm most commonly asked is: "Why do pharmacists run into difficulty with the regulator?"
The reasons are many and varied but, pursuant to the Pharmacy Order 2010, they fall into seven broad categories:
2. Deficient professional performance (competence)
3. Adverse physical or mental health
4. Refusal to undergo an assessment of performance
5. Criminal matters – convictions and cautions, for example
6. Adverse determinations by other bodies – a determination by the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, for example
It's important to bear in mind that the risk of running into difficulty is very small
7. Being added to a barred list by the Disclosure and Barring Service or Disclosure Scotland (the bodies that prohibit people from working with children or vulnerable adults).
Unlike some other regulators, the GPhC does not publish statistics on the causes of its fitness-to-practise cases. However, based upon personal experience, I would say that the two most common causes of hearings before the GPhC are misconduct (particularly misconduct in the form of dishonesty, such as removing medicines or other property from a pharmacy) and health problems (particularly substance misuse). Cases based upon deficient professional performance/competence are very rare among pharmacists.
Before worrying, it's important to bear in mind that the risk of running into difficulty is very small. In 2013-14, there were 71,221 pharmacists and pharmacy technicians on the GPhC's register. Of those, 1,038 were the subject of a complaint. This is a reassuringly modest percentage – 1.45 – and compares favourably to other regulators. For example, during the same period, 3.21 per cent of doctors on the General Medical Council's register and 2.2 per cent of dental professionals on the General Dental Council's register were subject to fitness-to-practise complaints.
The most important message is that you should seek immediate assistance to protect your position if you receive a letter from the GPhC informing you of an investigation into your fitness to practise. Burying one's head in the sand is always the worst possible way to proceed.
Andrea James is head of professional discipline & healthcare regulatory at Shoosmiths Solicitors LLP and specialises in representing pharmacists before the GPhC. For further information, telephone 03700 865722, email [email protected] or visit professionaldiscipline.shoosmiths.co.uk