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Watchdog raises concerns over GPhC's fitness to practise process

Duncan Rudkin: "We need to make improvements in some areas of our fitness to practise processes"
Duncan Rudkin: "We need to make improvements in some areas of our fitness to practise processes"

The GPhC failed to meet four out of ten fitness to practise (FtP) standards of good regulation, the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) has said.

Concerns over the “transparency and fairness” of some of the fitness to practise processes were raised by the independent statutory body in a review of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) published today (February 19).

The PSA – which oversees 10 statutory bodies that regulate health and social care professionals in the UK – also questioned “the timeliness of the investigations being conducted” by the GPhC, the “customer service provided to parties involved in fitness to practice cases”, the regulator's quality of record keeping and its “decision-making at the initial stages of the fitness to practise process”.

However, the GPhC met 20 out of 24 of the PSA’s Standards of Good Regulation in 2018-19, according to the review. The wachdog's standards cover fitness to practise, “guidance and standards”, “education and training”, and “registration”.

The GPhC said it will address the concerns raised by the PSA.

It met all the standards related to guidance and standards, education and training and registration in this year's review.

Triage process

The PSA analysed 63 fitness to practise cases closed by the GPhC between March 2018 and February 2019.

Having considered the result of this audit, it concluded that the GPhC failed to meet standards 5, 6, 7 and 8 for “fitness to practise” in 2018-19.

The PSA commented that the GPhC closed a “high proportion of cases”, 63%, at the triage stage of the fitness to practise process, “higher than the proportion closed at the same stage by the other regulators” the PSA oversees.

The GPhC’s triage guidance states that it only considers whether a case falls within its jurisdiction at the early stages of the triage process. However, the PSA said it was under the impression that the GPhC is “departing” from its internal guidance, as it is “considering factors beyond whether a complaint is within its jurisdiction when triaging cases”.

However, the PSA said that while its “audit identified a small number of cases where we disagreed with a decision to close the case at triage, this was not sufficient to suggest that the GPhC’s process in fact poses a barrier to concerns being raised”.


The audit also found that the timeframes for cases to be considered by the Investigating Committee and the Fitness to Practise Committee are not “significantly different to those reported by the GPhC last year” and the “expected improvements in the overall end to end timeframe for concluding cases have still not materialised as we would have expected”.

However, the GPhC has committed to improving the timeliness of its FtP cases, the PSA said.

FtP process unclear

The PSA also raised customer service concerns in 75% of the 63 cases it reviewed. It found that, in some cases, the parties had not been updated regularly during the investigation process, or else that the process had not been clearly explained to them.

While the GPhC has taken action to address the issues identified in the review, the PSA said it “cannot yet assess the impact [this] work might have or when any improvements may be evidenced”.

Decisions not “well-reasoned”

The PSA also found examples of “flawed or unclear reasoning” during all three of the GPhC decision-making stages – the triage, the investigation and the Investigating Committee stages.

“Based on the evidence that we saw, we could not conclude that decisions made in the period under review at the initial stage of the fitness to practise process were well-reasoned and consistent,” the PSA said.

GPhC will address concerns

In response to the PSA’s report, the GPhC has published an action plan specifying how it will make improvements to its fitness to practise procedures and address the concerns identified by the PSA.

“We agree with the PSA’s assessment that we need to make improvements in some areas of our fitness to practise processes. We have put in place an action plan to make sure that these improvements are taken forward as a priority and embedded over the longer term,” GPhC CEO Duncan Rudkin said.

What do you make of the PSA's findings?

S J- Locum, Locum pharmacist

Gphc should pay compensation and then be struck off

Marcus Jones, Student

This doesn't surprise me, maybe it's time that they have a change of management, I wonder if heads will roll for these failures.. Probably not, as I doubt they hold themselves accountable

Ghengis Pharm, Locum pharmacist

I'd like to be around when the GPhC gets struck off.

Paul doherty, Pharmacist Director

GPHC should action complaints against locum pharmacists who cancel bookings late or who turn up late for shifts especially if they lead to NHS breach notices.  There is a new trend for Locum pharmacists to cancel shifts last minute to raise the emergency rates that Locuns can achieve.  This is unprofessional behavior and should be within the remit of the GPHC to ensure all pharmacists act in a responsible professional manner. In my opinion these issues aren't 'employment' issues but are professional issues.


Leon The Apothecary, Student

Sometimes the company doesn't help themselves. I am aware of at least one of the multiples with one word that the well-established practice is to wait until the last moment to get their preferential rate. Because of this, the company has loads of locum shifts available until the last minute, where they have to offer emergency rates.

Now, in my opinion, it would just be better to offer a reasonable rate to begin with, because that would ultimately save more money in the long run.

Joan Richardson, Locum pharmacist

Part of the solution to this is in your own hands - do not engage a particular locum again if you feel that they have cancelled a shift late in order to drive up the emergency rate.  The agency that I have worked with puts your name forward to the company and they have the chance to say yes or no before the booking is confirmed.

If there is a trend for locums to cancel late to drive up the emergency rate then there would have to be more than one involved.  Surely you would not rebook the locum that has cancelled at the higher rate!

Locum Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

I have beeen cancelled a coule of days before several times by a major company.While I would never deliberately cancel like this myself,the company will find it easy to sue and have a large pool of workers to replace tham, while the locum if they sue,will be left without emploment.

Also the reason some locums do this is because its the only way they can get an anywhere reasonable rate for the job....a totally unecessary situation created by the companes themselves.

C A, Community pharmacist

Assuming that you have a good contract with the locum, failure to give 3 days notice means they are in breach of contract and you can sue them. 

So unless you have good reason to acuse locums of unprofessional behaviour you should be speaking to a lawyer, but be careful it cuts both ways - if you have to cancel at short notice the same applys to the contractor (you could be liable for a days wages)

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Assuming that you have a good contract with the locum, failure to give 3 days notice means they are in breach of contract and you can sue them.

However, I would also expect you'll never that that locum working there again. Locums also talk to each other; you'll have more trouble in the future with future recruitment.

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