I was pleasantly surprised at this month's announcement from the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) that regulatory fees will be frozen for 2016-17. This means annual fees for pharmacists will remain at £250, while premises will be £241 and technicians will pay £118.
My feelings of relief may have stemmed from my New Year literally starting off with an e-mail reminder from my indemnity insurer that my policy would soon have to be renewed. January 1 is never nice time to hear you will be shelling out more cash. Despite the fact I only do occasional locum shifts, I see indemnity insurance as an investment that enables me to earn money as a professional. So, for me, the basic cost of working as a pharmacist is around £500, including regulatory and insurance fees. I'll admit that it sounds steep. But, putting the figure into context, I feel I am faring better than GPs, who have significantly higher fees to pay to the General Medical Council (GMC), indemnity insurers and Royal Colleges.
And putting the fee freeze into the context of the regulatory workload, it's pretty good news. The GPhC is dealing with a continued increase in fitness-to-practise complaints – nearly doubling since 2012 – so it’s laudable that the organisation aims to reduce its operating costs and break even by 2018-19 through improving efficiencies without increasing fees (at least for this year).
It does raise a question over whether this is sustainable, though. Maybe one way to deal with the volume of complaints is to introduce additional fees for those pharmacies or pharmacists that need revisiting after an initial unsatisfactory visit by a GPhC inspector, thereby ensuring that this additional use of resources is more proportionately funded.
Of course, this may not be enough to mitigate the effects of the forecast 1,000 to 3,000 pharmacy closures, which would adversely affect income from premises. If these closures do go ahead, it looks like pharmacy contractors won't be the only ones to feel the squeeze.
Ross Ferguson is a locum pharmacist in Scotland