What is General Pharmaceutical fitness to practise?
To remain on the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC) register, pharmacists must be “fit to practise”. The GPhC defines fitness to practise as pharmacy professionals:
“having the skills, knowledge, character and health necessary to do their job safely and effectively, act professionally and meet the principles of good practice set out in our various standards, guidance and advice.”
The GPhC will investigate concerns which suggest that a pharmacists’ fitness to practise may be impaired. A pharmacists’ fitness to practise can be impaired for a number of reasons, including misconduct, lack of competence, not having the necessary knowledge of English, ill-health or a conviction or caution for a criminal offence.
“Returning” or “Restoration”?
There is a difference between “returning” to the GPhC register and applying for “restoration”. Generally speaking, if, for example, a pharmacist’s registration has lapsed or you have been removed voluntarily, you can make the following applications to the GPhC:
- If it is less than 12 months since you were last registered with the GPhC, you can apply to restore your registration
- If it is more than 12 months, you can apply to return to the register.
However, the “more than 12 months” rule for returning to the register does not apply to removal by a GPhC Fitness to Practise Committee. If a pharmacist was removed from the register by a committee, they will not be able to apply to return to the register until five years has elapsed from the removal date.
Removal by a GPhC Fitness to Practise Committee – Overview
- an application to return to the register is not an appeal against, or a review of, the original fitness to practise committee decision
- there is no automatic right to return
- when applying, the ‘burden of proof’ is on the applicant
- pharmacist must provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate their fitness to practise
- the application will be heard by a fitness to practise committee, which will consider whether the pharmacist can be restored with unrestricted practice or with conditions
- if an application is refused, a pharmacist must wait 12 months from the date of the application before they can make another application
- the committee may direct that a pharmacist cannot make any further applications for restoration
Your application for restoration will be heard by a GPhC Fitness to Practise Committee, which will consider whether you can be restored with unrestricted practice or with conditions.
These hearings are usually take place in public. The exception is hearings relating to health issues where the interests of the pharmacist, or a third party, in maintaining their privacy outweigh the public interest in holding the hearing in public.
The hearing is held by a panel of three people (a chair, a registrant member and a lay member). Other people may also be at the hearing, including a legal adviser, a medical adviser, GPhC staff and the applicant’s representatives.
A hearing will usually follow the following order:
- Preliminary legal arguments
- GPhC presenter - is invited to speak to the committee on the background of the case and the circumstances in which the applicant’s name was removed from the register. This is important, because the committee will need to understand what happened which led to registration being removed. The presenter must direct the attention of the committee to any relevant evidence, including transcripts of previous hearings.
- Applicant - The pharmacist plying has a right to address the committee, present evidence and call witnesses in relation to “any relevant matter”. This includes evidence on professional knowledge and skills kept up to date and insight.
- The committee - may ask questions on any issues which are relevant to the restoration application.
- Decision making
When making this decision, the committee will apply the following test:
“Against the backdrop of the overarching objective (to protect the public, maintain confidence in the profession & maintaining professional standards), is the applicant concerned fit to practise.”
To decide if the applicant is fit to practise and whether restoration will meet our overriding objective, the committee will take into account a range of factors:
- The circumstances that led to the removal
- The reasons given by the original committee for the decision to remove
- The pharmacist’s response to the findings of the committee at the original hearing
- The likelihood of the pharmacist repeating the conduct that led to their removal from the register
- Evidence of learning activities designed to keep skills and knowledge up to date, and to keep up with developments in practice
- The lapse of time since the applicant was removed
- Evidence demonstrating insight & remediation
Insight & Remediation
When you apply for restoration, a pharmacist will be required to “provide sufficient evidence” to demonstrate their fitness to practise. The ‘burden of proof’ is on the pharmacist. This means that it is for the pharmacist to satisfy the committee that they should be restored – it is not for the GPhC to prove or to provide evidence to the contrary.
When the committee considers evidence of insight, it will consider:
- Does the applicant understand what went wrong and accept that they should have behaved differently?
- Has the applicant demonstrated that they appreciate the impact or potential impact that their wrongdoing had or could have had on patients and members of the public, for example by showing remorse?
- Is the applicant empathetic to any individuals involved in the original concern, for example by apologising?
- Has the applicant identified how they will act differently in the future to avoid similar issues arising?
It is important to remember that a restoration hearing is not an opportunity to challenge the findings of the fitness to practise committee which removed the pharmacist’s name from the register, or about the severity of that original decision. A committee considering an application for restoration is bound by the original findings and decision.
What powers have the committee have?
The fitness to practise committee could:
- grant the application, and direct that the applicant should be restored to the register without conditions;
- grant the application, and direct that the applicant should be restored to the register with conditions for a period of up to 3 years; or
- refuse the application.
Right of appeal
There is no right of appeal against a decision by the committee to refuse restoration. There is a right of appeal against a committee decision that no further applications can be made. This type of appeal can be made to the High Court (or the Court of Session in Scotland) within 28 days of the written reasons for the decision being given.
Restoration applications are complex and should be approached with a clear strategy and great care. There are a number of things for pharmacist to consider:
- The GPhC fitness to practise committee will be supported by a legal advisor with representatives from the GPhC present to present the regulator’s case.
- The process is governed by strict statutory rules and procedures.
- There are limited ground of appeal and the committee can direct that no further applications can be made. Approaching a restoration application with a clear strategy and legal advice will assist pharmacists.
- The right evidence is critical to evidence fitness to practise. This is particularly relevant to showing insight and remediation.
Expert legal advice and representation will benefit pharmacists greatly.
Kings View Barristers
With over 30 years combined experience, Kings View Chambers have established itself as one of the best when it comes to fitness to practise defence. We fully understand that fitness to practise defence is not merely about processes and procedures. We also understand that we are working with people who are anxious and worried about what investigations might mean for them, their professions and the reputations.
We are proud to be rated ‘excellent’ by our clients. Our commitment to client care is genuine in both seeking the very best outcomes for our clients, but also ensuring we do what we can to support them through the process.
Disclaimer: This article is for guidance purposes only. Kings View Chambers accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken, or not taken, in relation to this article. You should seek the appropriate legal advice having regard to your own particular circumstances.