Disciplinary Procedures for Pharmacists

If a complaint is made about a pharmacist to the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), a number of decisions are made about whether to refer the case for disciplinary investigation, and, if applicable, to determine the type and severity of sanctions to be imposed.

In this post on disciplinary procedures for pharmacists, the latest in our series of blog posts about legal services for professionals, we will help you to understand what constitutes an offence, the process of sanctioning, and provide clarity on the support available for you as a pharmacy professional.

Professional Discipline procedures Pharmacists

Who Are the General Pharmaceutical Council?

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is the regulator for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and registered pharmacy premises in England, Scotland and Wales.

It is their job to protect, promote and maintain the health, safety and wellbeing of members of the public by upholding standards and public trust in pharmacy.

What Happens When a Concern is Raised about a Pharmacist?

When a concern is raised, the Registrar at the GPhC looks at all the information provided, and considers whether an investigation is appropriate.

If the Registrar decides that the complaint should be investigated, the case is referred to an Investigating Committee (IC). The IC hears the case, and may ask for more information.

Should they see fit, the IC can in turn refer the case on to the Fitness to Practise Committee (FtPC). The FtPC hears cases where a registrant’s fitness to practise is in question, and can issue sanctions or advice if appropriate.

It should be noted that the Registrar can refer a case directly to the FtPC. This could happen if, for example, the Registrar considers that the Committee should make an interim suspension order or needs to urgently consider a case (because it is in the public interest to do so).

What Sorts of Offences Are Considered for Investigation?

Complaints are considered for investigation when they call into question a pharmacy professional’s fitness to practise.

A pharmacy professional is ‘fit to practise’ when they have the skills, knowledge, character and health necessary to do their job safely and effectively, and when they act professionally and meet the principles of good practice set out by the GPhC.

A pharmacy professional’s fitness to practise can be impaired for a number of reasons, including:

  • Misconduct
  • Deficient professional performance including lack of competence
  • Not having the necessary knowledge of English
  • Adverse physical and/or mental health that impairs ability to practice safely and effectively
  • A criminal conviction or police caution in the British Isles

Pharmacists must inform the GPhC of any change that affects their fitness to practise within seven days of that change.

Pharmacists must also complete a fitness to practise declaration each year as part of their annual registration renewal, in which they must declare if there is any reason why their fitness to practise is impaired.

As part of demonstrating their fitness to practise, pharmacists are also required to undertake and record continuing professional development, to show they keep up to date with developments in pharmacy and professional practice.

Failure to adhere to these requirements can result in an investigation and disciplinary procedures for pharmacists, including potential sanctions.

What Professional Sanctions Could Be Imposed on a Pharmacist?

When it comes to disciplinary procedures for pharmacists, the outcomes of an investigation are dependent on the level to which the complaint has been elevated.

If the Registrar refers the complaint to the IC, there are several possible outcomes.

If the IC decides that an individual’s fitness to practise is in question, they can refer the case to the FtPC.

If the IC decides that the case does not need to be referred, it may:

  • Dismiss the case
  • Give a warning to the registrant and decide that details of the warning should be recorded in the register
  • Give advice to the registrant, or any other person or organisation involved in the investigation
  • Agree undertakings with the registrant
  • Initiate a criminal prosecution
  • In a health case, request for a registrant to undergo a medical examination

If a case is referred to the FtPC, this committee must decide whether the fitness to practise of the person concerned is impaired. If so, they may (in order of seriousness):

  • Give advice to any other person or organisation involved in the investigation
  • Give a warning to the registrant and decide that details of this warning should be recorded in the Register
  • Place conditions on the registrant’s registration for up to three years
  • Suspend the registrant from the Register for up to 12 months
  • Remove the registrant from the Register

If the Fitness to Practise Committee decides that the fitness to practise of the person concerned is not impaired, it can still:

  • Give a warning to the registrant and decide that details of the warning should be recorded in the Register
  • Give advice to the registrant, or any other person or organisation involved in the investigation

The FtPC can also:

  • Recommend that the GPhC Council initiate criminal proceedings
  • Require a registrant to undergo a medical examination (in a health case)
Is It Possible to Avoid the Publicity of a Hearing?

Hearings are normally held in public. However, the committees can proceed in private on a discretionary basis, or allow some parts of the hearings to take place in private.

If a case involves information about a pharmacy professional’s health, this part of the hearing will be held in private to keep such information confidential.

Representations can be made to the committees about whether a hearing / some parts of it should proceed in private. The committees will obtain their own legal advice.

Anyone may attend the public parts of a hearing.

Will My Insurance Cover Legal Fees?

If you find yourself in need of legal support, you should check the terms of your relevant policy. You may have a household policy which covers legal fees or you may have legal expenses insurance.

You should be aware that some insurers will state in their terms that you must use one of their prescribed solicitors, however, the true position is that you do not have to go with their choice. The Insurance Companies (Legal Expenses Insurance) Regulations 1990 allow you to choose which solicitor will be appointed in respect of any proceedings conducted on your behalf.

Some unions may offer preliminary help and legal advice and provide you with financial assistance towards your legal fees. It is worth noting that legal rights have time limits, so you should check with your union and insurers as soon as possible.

How We Can Help

If you are a pharmacist who is subject to a disciplinary hearing from the GPhC, they will have explained their reason for doing so in a letter. We will review your case and advise you on your chances of success. We will explain the processes and advise you on the best way of proceeding, and set about gathering evidence to support your case.

At your hearing we will represent you and argue that you are fit to practise and show how this is supported by the evidence obtained.

For more information on all professional services matters, please contact Regan or Gemma by email to info@reganpeggs.com, or call 0121 201 3765.

Gemma Tibbatts
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