In the letter sent to an MP, it was highlighted that the number of pharmacists facing fitness to practice (FtP) proceedings, whose cases have been ongoing for more than a year, has increased to 430 cases in 2022/2023.
The Professional Standards Authority (PSA), which regulates the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), wrote to Steve Brine, chair of the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee, on 18 September 2023 to outline its concerns following the failure of the GPhC’s FtP processes. Meeting the PSA standard for FtP timeliness for the fifth year in a row.
in the letterThe PSA, published on 18 October 2023, noted that the GPhC launched a five-year FtP strategy in July 2021 and established a Fitness to Practice Standards Board “to seek to improve performance in this area”.
“However, the GPhC’s work has had little impact in terms of timeliness during this review period, with the number of cases open for more than a year rising again from 298. [cases in 2021/2022] up to 430 [cases in 2022/2023]” he said in the letter.
“We will closely monitor the GPhC’s work to improve the timing of the fitness to practice process so we can understand its progress and raise concerns if its work does not appear to be effective.”
Data PSA’s latest review of GPhC performancePublished on 25 September 2023, it showed that the number of pharmacist FtP cases open for more than three years also increased, from 49 cases in 2021/2022 to 77 cases in 2022/2023 (the highest figure in five years).
The data also showed an increase in the number of open cases between two and three years; increased from 66 cases in 2021/2022 to 103 cases in 2022/2023; This is the highest figure in the last five years.
Following the PSA’s review of the GPhC, the PSA said it had also written to the health and social care secretary, Steve Barclay, as a result of the regulator’s failure to meet all FtP standards for the fifth year in a row.
On 22 September 2023, the GPhC responded to the PSA report in a letter to Brine, saying it was “implementing a comprehensive action plan to deliver improvements in our fitness to work”.
“Our action plan covers our people, processes and technology, and these remain our focus. “The work we have undertaken so far has enabled us to understand the efficiency we need to achieve at each stage of our decision-making process to ensure we are on a positive path towards a reasonable standard of timing,” the letter said.
In its statement regarding the number of open FTP cases, the Pharmacists Defense Association (PDA) said it “shares the concerns identified in the PSA report regarding cases that have been open for years.”
“Our members have expressed frustration at the lack of progress on long-running investigations with limited updates on what is happening,” he said.
“Pharmacists’ lives have been put on hold while these investigations are ongoing; one member has recently left the profession and taken up another career due to the limited provision of information regarding the progress of an investigation that began more than two years ago.”
Mark Pitt, director of advocacy services at the PDA, said: “Pharmacists cannot plan their next career move or even consider moving house with these investigations hanging over them. We call on the GPhC to invest time and resources in clearing the backlog.
“Where there are grounds for a pause in progress, the GPhC should always keep registrants regularly informed of the progress of investigations, including providing time estimates for completion of each stage and an explanation of what will happen next.”
Claire Anderson, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “Timely resolution of fitness to practice cases is crucial to maintaining public confidence in the pharmacy profession and any delay is a serious concern.
“It is crucial that regulators address these challenges quickly and effectively. Pharmacy teams are committed to providing high standards of care and a transparent and effective regulatory process is essential to maintaining these standards.
“We also know from previous discussions with our members that the time required for some fitness to practice cases is a huge burden and needs to be reduced. When registrants are investigated, formally or informally, there are negative consequences for their careers, reputations and wellbeing.”
A spokesperson for the GPhC said there were 1,545 open cases of FtP as of 23 October 2023, 42 of which were older than 12 months.
“Our priority is to resolve our fitness to practice cases in a timely manner, protecting the public by responding first and foremost to public and patient concerns, and providing fairness and transparency to those who register,” the spokesperson said.
“This is key to our commitment to deliver effective, consistent and fair regulation.
“We have established and are implementing a comprehensive action plan to deliver improvements in our compliance work and remain fully committed to achieving this.”