There has been a massive increase in the number of fitness-to-practise cases reported to the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), with ethnic minorities hit hardest. Andrew Andrews reports…

 

Data released by the regulator reveals that the 680 concerns triaged between April and June 2018 represents a 47% increase, when compared to the same quarter last year.

The published ethnicity data for 2017 also highlighted some big discrepancies, with pharmacists from ethnic minorities over-represented. When compared to the total number of registrants, reported fitness-to-practise concerns were 31.35% higher for Indian pharmacists, 46.61% higher for Pakistani and 77.38% higher for those declared as Asian other.

Over the last few years, the GPhC has been releasing data and reporting on its fitness-to-practise processes, equality and diversity. The GPhC contends that any meaningful analysis of this data was challenging and had the potential to mislead – with 1,100 referrals representing too small a data set and the 10.51% of registrants who chose not to disclose their ethnicity, also over-represented.

Research funded by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) in January 2017 found that black and minority ethnic nurses and midwives were over-represented in the NMC fitness-to-practise process. Ethnicity played a role in referrals and cases against these groups were more likely to progress.

The GPhC data is problematic as it is restricted to the number of cases referred and the GPhC has no control over referrals to them. There has been no ethnicity data provided as to the proportion of cases that progress to investigation and adjudication, nor data which might suggest any discrepancy in the outcomes and sanctions imposed.

A systematic review of the entire process might shed light upon any potential discrimination by employers or the regulator. The GPhC considers that there may be wider issues affecting the number of fitness-to-practise concerns reported. It is continuing with its strategic review and intends on publishing its report and recommendations in December 2019.

Should over-representation exist at the investigation stage, this could be significant given that interim orders can be imposed affecting the pharmacist’s ability to work, usually pending resolution of their case.

Fitness-to-practise proceedings can have serious implications for individuals and bring significant disruption to businesses. It is therefore recommended that pharmacists seek legal advice the moment they become aware of any fitness-to-practise concerns raised against them.

It is important to remember that a reported concern does not necessarily mean that a pharmacist’s fitness-to-practise has been impaired.

It can be particularly stressful for the pharmacy professional to first learn that they are being investigated. There is potentially much at stake, which makes it all the more important to take stock of the situation and avoid the temptation to immediately respond and account, until first having a clear understanding of the particular legal issue at hand.

 

Andrew Andrews is senior associate in VWV’s regulatory compliance team. He can be contacted on 020 7665 0864.

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