What is GPhC 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.
GPhC Voluntary Agreements – Overview
A voluntary agreement is an arrangement between the GPhC and a pharmacist that seeks to allow them to continue to practise, but with agreed requirements in place. Voluntary agreements are normally considered at the conclusion of the GPhC’s initial enquiries stage before the formal committee stage (an Investigation Committee).
The GPhC’s guidance states that it will “only consider an agreement where it is adequate to assure patient safety and is an appropriate and proportionate outcome” and each agreement will be specific to each individual case.
The criteria applied by the GPhC when deciding if it is appropriate to offer an agreement are:
- that patients and the public will be protected
- an effective and proportionate way of dealing with the concerns about the pharmacy professional there is evidence of a pharmacy professional’s willingness to respond positively to restrictions and oversight, and to work with the GPhC
- a risk or potential risk to patient safety remains, if the condition is not appropriately managed
- the pharmacy professional has sufficient insight into any health problems or conduct
- there is evidence that the pharmacy professional has been open and honest
- the pharmacy professional, although not currently impaired, requires some support to enable them to practise safely and effectively
- the agreement is a fair and a proportionate response to the risk that exists
- the absence of an agreement could lead to a risk developing in future
GPhC Voluntary Agreements are in place for six months. The agreement may be extended for a maximum of six months if “it is appropriate to do so”. If the matter is not resolved at the end of this second period, the GPhC said it “may consider alternative action”, including referral to its Investigation Committee (IC).
Considerations for pharmacists
Although Voluntary Agreements are entirely voluntary in nature, pharmacists need to carefully consider their position and seek legal advice. When considering a Voluntary Agreement, there are a number of things for pharmacists to consider:
- it will not be offered if the pharmacy professional has previously broken any previous agreements;
- pharmacists have the right to reply and submit evidence, both during the investigation stage and during the life of the agreement;
- the GPhC will notify the person that raised the concern of the outcome and may disclose details to your employer, “or other relevant third party”; and
- an agreement does not mean the matter is resolved. If there is evidence that the agreement has not been effective or not adhered to, the GPhC may refer the case to its Investigation Committee.
Insight & Remediation
The GPhC’s guidance states that it “will not normally consider an agreement if … the pharmacy professional has not demonstrated insight”.
Reflection is about serious thought or consideration of the circumstances that lead to a things going wrong. Insight is learning from this reflection to gain an accurate and deep understanding of steps necessary to, one, ensure mistakes are not repeated and, two, address the consequences.
Insight can also be demonstrated through training and training courses. Insight Works Training will help give you a clear and easy to follow understanding of the regulatory process, explanation of the central role of impairment, how to approach insight and remediation, how to evidence this at your hearing and a directed approach to presenting your learning with evidence in writing and verbally.
Seeking Legal Advice
The GPhC recommends that a “Pharmacy professionals may want to contact … [a] legal representative before deciding to enter into an agreement”. A voluntary agreement should not be considered lightly, and a pharmacist should carefully consider their position for a number of reasons:
- Making an agreement does not mean that the pharmacist has admitted their practice is impaired. Legal advice will advise pharmacists on whether a Voluntary Agreement is appropriate for their individual case. In certain cases, where the issues are in dispute or contested, a pharmacist may wish to have their case considered by an Investigation Committee.
- Where a Voluntary Agreement is appropriate, a pharmacist needs to ensure that the wording is clear, proportionate and understood. Legal advice can assist and advise on the wording of an agreement prior to the agreement.
- Legal advice can also be important when insight and remediation are considered. Achieving and evidencing insight can take a long time to achieve and form part of a wider strategy agreed with a pharmacist.
- Voluntary Agreements can hold reputational damage and other adverse implications for pharmacists. Details of agreements can be shared with employers, patients and “other third parties”. This further points to the need and importance of seeking legal advice. The right strategy and approach will consider mitigation steps to limit exposure and any reputational damage.
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.