The number of FtP concerns reported to the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has risen year on year. This year saw a massive increase in the number of complaints received. The GPhC revealed that it received 380 complaints in March, representing 153 more than it received in March 2019. Then in April, the GPhC reported a 29% increase up to 318 in the concerns it received compared to the same month the previous year.
These reported concerns are then individually triaged. This process may potentially translate into a significant increase in the number of cases that the GPhC investigates, with the more serious of those concerns being referred to the regulator’s FtP committee.
At its meeting on June 11, the GPhC's council was asked to approve its combined 2019-20 annual accounts, annual report and annual statistical FtP report. Once approved and published, the FtP report accompanied by the council’s observations should provide more detailed insight as to the number of concerns raised, matters investigated and cases that have proceeded to hearings.
The GPhC has been working to “develop and implement an intelligence model for managing incoming information”. I believe that the increase in concerns recorded may be somewhat due to the organisation becoming more efficient in the way that it gathers, handles and triages information and intelligence.
COVID-19 has presented unprecedented pressure and challenges for community pharmacy. In the absence of more available statistical data accounting for the significant increase in concerns reported in recent months, I expect that a large proportion of these are likely to be pandemic-related retail concerns.
Some concerns have been well-publicised, attracting negative reputational attention for the sector. These have included such things as the purported high pricing in some pharmacies of face masks and other PPE, hand sanitiser and COVID-19 home-testing kits.
Reported concerns are not always genuine or indicative of any wrongdoing, but investigations and FtP proceedings ordinarily take many months and sometimes years to conclude. They can have potentially serious implications for registered pharmacists or pharmacy technicians, often bringing significant disruption and reputational damage for businesses.
I would always recommend that legal advice is sought at the earliest opportunity. Ideally, from the moment that a pharmacy owner or their employees are first made aware that any concern has been raised against them.
Andrew Andrews is a specialist regulatory compliance lawyer and senior associate within the regulatory compliance team at the law firm VWV