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GPhC explores potential benefits of covert surveillance powers


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GPhc to address ethical concerns regarding covert surveillance, particularly in online pharmacy probes 

In a recent minute of meeting, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) explored the implications of its unique authority under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), granting powers for covert surveillance.

Although never utilized, the GPhC is obligated to maintain appropriate policies for such actions.

During a recent meeting, the pharmacy regulator discussed that the use of RIPA be brought to a future Council workshop to discuss issues including the “ethical implications of having and using the powers, the possible use of RIPA in online pharmacy investigations and retaining the powers to deal with future scenarios as yet unknown”.

Led by Chief Executive and Registrar, Duncan Rudkin, the discussion underscored the importance of having robust oversight mechanisms in place.

The inspection report provided assurance that the GPhC’s policies align with regulatory requirements.

Notably, the committee plans to pay attention to recommendations regarding oversight delegation.

Additionally, the matter surfaced during the December 5, 2023, Audit and Risk Committee meeting, highlighting the GPhC’s plan to assess the need for these powers in forthcoming investigations, beginning in January 2024.

The committee had also noted that working with agencies like the MHRA and the police could make covert surveillance unnecessary.

As of the recent Audit and Risk Committee meeting held on 18 April, the pharmacy regulator has proposed a future Council workshop to deliberate on ethical considerations surrounding the use of covert surveillance, especially concerning online pharmacy investigations.

This development marks a significant shift since 2016 when the GPhC clarified its investigative powers.

Previously, the council lacked legal authority for directed surveillance or covert human intelligence sources.

Seeking enhanced investigative capabilities, the GPhC engaged with relevant authorities, eventually securing legal authorization for covert surveillance in 2018.

The journey to obtain these powers dates back to 2013, when the GPhC initiated discussions with government bodies to amend legislation more persistently following a 2012 BBC investigation which led to the “biggest crackdown” in UK pharmaceutical history as some pharmacists were illegally selling controlled drugs over the counter.

The culmination came in 2018 with the passing of The Investigatory Powers (Codes of Practice and Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2018.

While the prospect of covert surveillance may raise ethical considerations, the GPhC remains steadfast in its pursuit of tools necessary for effective regulatory oversight.



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