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The curious logic of fitness to practise decisions


The curious logic of fitness to practise decisions

By Arthur Walsh, P3pharmacy editor

Luckily for me (and probably everyone else too), my bleeding liberal heart will never be responsible for deciding whether or not a pharmacist is fit to practise.

That role carries a serious amount of responsibility, especially where alleged breaches of the professional code are so serious that the General Pharmaceutical Council’s FtP committee must consider whether an individual has to be removed from the register to uphold patient safety.

I have a lot of respect for the committee and the task it has before it. And, like everyone else must, I assume it knows what it is doing and sticks to the evidence when deciding if a registrant is at fault. However, that’s not to say that I can always follow its logic when it comes to imposing sanctions.

Pharmacist struck off after being convicted for making drug-fuelled sectarian death threats and being caught dozing in the dispensary? Fine – no questions from me on that one. Pharmacy technician removed from the register for stealing blood sugar tests to sell on eBay? Fair enough – that is a plain case of dishonest behaviour. Pharmacist struck off after getting nicked for dodging train fares? A part of me felt sorry for that person, if I’m honest (I told you I shouldn’t be in charge of this), but the rules are the rules.

But sometimes the decisions do seem a little bit more… random. Recently, for example, the superintendent pharmacist of a fast-growing independent chain got off with a warning after GPhC inspections at two separate branches revealed that staff had been told to dispense prescription medicines without a responsible pharmacist on the premises.

The second of these inspections came months after the first, and the superintendent had already been reminded of the company’s obligations under the 2008 RP regulations. That makes it harder to chalk up to an innocent mistake, and given the fundamental nature of this breach of standards, a simple ‘Please don’t do it again’ from the FtP committee seems weak.

If the superintendent had taken a bottle of shampoo from the pharmacy, they would have probably made her give up her name badge there and then.

Let’s not forget that the GPhC has been forced in recent years to defend its reasoning in court – twice in fact, and on the same case. First, in 2021, the High Court overturned the FtP committee’s initial ruling that a number of vitriolic remarks made by a pharmacist over a loudspeaker at a 2017 pro-Palestine rally were “offensive but not antisemitic”.

This March, the committee was up before the High Court once more to defend its decision to give that pharmacist a warning rather than a more serious punishment. The presiding judge allowed the warning to stand, but did note that the committee had placed undue weight on its finding that the remarks were not intended to be antisemitic.

Healthcare regulation must be a difficult and ever-changing job, undoubtedly made more complex still by things like digital technology and the public nature of social media. But we can have respect for those doing a tough job while at the same time holding them to account when their decisions strike us as peculiar.

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