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The DH wants to axe health regulators. Here's why the GPhC should stay

“A Department of Health consultation suggests that the GPhC’s days may be numbered”

Pharmacy lawyer David Reissner explains why there may be a case for the GPhC to be retained if other healthcare regulators are scrapped

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) was only established in 2010, but a current Department of Health (DH) consultationPromoting professionalism, reforming regulation – suggests that the GPhC’s days may be numbered.

The consultation paper informs us that there are approximately 1.5 million people registered to practise in healthcare professions in the UK. But, it says, the system of regulation is “a historical patchwork”, carried out by nine statutory regulators. 

The DH says that “regulation of healthcare professionals must change in order to protect patients, to support the transformation of UK healthcare services and to meet future challenges”.

At the moment, the nine healthcare regulators have different powers, which can result in different sanctions for similar professional failings. The DH insists that there is “no clear rationale” for retaining all nine separate bodies. What is more, the cost of regulation varies widely from one regulator to another. The DH wants to reduce the number of bodies to three or four ‘super-regulators’ that would govern a group of professions.

Is pharmacy a special case?

The DH says that efficiencies begin to accrue when a regulator has a registrant base of between 100,000 and 200,000. The GPhC has just over 89,000 registrants in England, Wales and Scotland, while the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI), which is the smallest regulator in the UK, has 2,852 registrants. You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to work out the implications for the GPhC and PSNI.

Pharmacy is the only area of healthcare that is not regulated by a single UK body, so it may not be possible to avoid a merger of the GPhC and the PSNI. However, there are some good reasons for keeping pharmacy regulation separate from the bodies that regulate other healthcare professions:

  • The powers of some healthcare regulators may be out of date – this doesn’t apply to the GPhC which, as one of the newest, has more modern powers.
  • The breadth of pharmacy activity among community pharmacy, the hospital sector and the pharmaceutical industry may not blend naturally with other healthcare professions.
  • Pharmacy is unique among healthcare professions in having a statutory inspectorate with statutory powers, and almost unique in having premises that are registered.
  • The legislation governing pharmacy practice is also very different to the laws governing other healthcare professions. The Medicines Act and the Human Medicines Regulations create a raft of criminal offences that apply only to pharmacy practice.

The consultation is open until January 23, 2018. But a ‘Jack-of-all-trades’ regulator is likely to lack the expertise to govern a profession with pharmacy’s special features.

David Reissner is senior healthcare partner at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys LLP


L O, Primary care pharmacist

I'm yet to meet another fellow pharmacist who actually thinks that the GPHC is any more useful than a chocolate fireguard. 

Ilove Pharmacy, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

I have a novel idea.  A regulator that is not in bed with the multiples.

Meera Sharma, Community pharmacist

FYI - read this. This is what the GPhC should have been doing - fighting the pharmacists' corner, as the GMC is doing for its registrants!


Locum Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

Based on the comments in the article, GMC registrants seem to feel the same way towards the GMC which is trying to get the doctor struck off against the ruling of the Tribunal. Seems like another case of a regulator scapegoating the health professional when there are serious flaws in the system.

Uma Patel, Community pharmacist

We may not be enchanted by the GPhC, but that does not mean that the new proposed regulator would be any better. We used to moan at the RPhS, but dealing  with The Soc was far better that dealing with the GPhC. I suspect same may happen again.

Similarly we used to complain about PCT's. When they were abolished, some said 'good riddance'. Dealing with CCG  etc is far worse

History repeats itself

R A, Community pharmacist

Within the last two years, we've had two articles from Guardian highlighting the dubious behaviour of corporate pharmacy. Has the GPhC done anything? What about P2U selling patient details? I have read fitness to practice case of pharmacists being chastised over more trivial matter! Lets not forget in more serious fitness to practice cases pharmacists have pointed to work environment as the root of the cause. In many of these cases patient safety was compromised but the GPhC has failed to do anything to address the issue despite the fact that its main role is to protect the patients not the pharmacist.

 I personally believe Mr Reissner is concerned his own practice will be affected if a new regulator comes to replace GPhC and states taking on the big guys. 


Locum Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

Let's give the 'jack-of-all-trades regulator' a go- they can't be much worse than the GPhC. In any case, it's not like the GPhC is brimming with frontline pharmacists empowering pharmacist registrants. Their only area of expertise is sucking up to the multiples and keeping their mouth shut.

Ilove Pharmacy, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

Mr Reissner, with all due respect I suspect a conflict of interest.....

Valentine Trodd, Community pharmacist

Mr. Reissner, you couldn't be more out of touch with the opinions of working pharmacists. The GPhC is pretty much reviled by us all, as a bunch of pen pushers run by a clown with an arts degree who has never set foot in a dispensary. Since it's inception it has preached from the moral high ground, and relentlessly pursued errant registrants (who pay their wages) while standing by and letting big business run rogue. I for one, will dance a jig, when this shower of jokers is chucked out of their plush offices on Canary Warf. 

M P, Community pharmacist

A new broader regulator maybe better at holding the big multiples to account. Just what we need. Maybe a little too late now though. 

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

I wonder if having a different regulator will help with decriminalising dispensing errors?

Meera Sharma, Community pharmacist

You took the words right out of my mouth! Why on earth would anyone defend the GPhC?! If they had backed pharmacists, most would have agreedw ith you and probably put up a fight. As it stands, we as a profession may as well take our chances with another body - struggling to see what the GPhC has done to preserve pharmacy, other than produce a lot of documents!!

Rubicon Mango, Academic pharmacist

Is this article serious?

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