Wendy Hewitt and Marie Dancer write for Pharmacy Business explaining the GPhCs new standards for pharmacy professionals

On May 12, 2017, new standards for pharmacy professionals come into force from the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). Marie Dancer, a solicitor at Richard Nelson LLP, and Wendy Hewitt, a barrister from 5 St Andrews Hill, explain its ramifications…

The GPhC have replaced the previous seven principle standards with the following nine, stating that pharmacy professionals must:

1. Provide person-centred care;
2. Work in partnership with others;
3. Communicate effectively;
4. Maintain, develop and use their professional knowledge and skills;
5. Use professional judgement;
6. Behave in a professional manner;
7. Respect and maintain the person’s confidentiality and privacy;
8. Speak up when they have concerns or when things go wrong;
9. Demonstrate leadership.

The new standards make it clear that they are to be met by pharmacy professionals at all times, not only during working hours. The GPhC argues that the attitudes and behaviours of pharmacy professionals outside of work can affect the trust and confidence of patients and the public in pharmacy professionals.

The new standards have proved to be controversial. The PDA tried to challenge the legality of the new standards in legal proceedings known as a judicial review before the High Court. The PDA’s concern was that the standards created a significant degree of uncertainty, exposing pharmacists to unnecessary risk.

Whilst the High Court refused to allow the PDA’s challenge, the Judge provided welcome comments for pharmacy professionals, indicating that the application of the new standards will have to be rooted in real life and common sense.

In some ways, the new standards have not changed significantly. For example, within the new standard 5, ‘using professional judgement’, the GPhC states that pharmacy professionals should consider and manage appropriately any personal or organisational goals, incentives or targets.
This is similar to the previous Standards 2, 5 and 7. A common example where this standard is relied on in GPhC fitness to practise proceedings is when a pharmacist, often citing organisational pressure, completes Medicines Use Reviews, (MURs) unnecessarily, to hit organisational targets.

Depending on the specific circumstances and the approach taken by the pharmacist, sanctions for this breach range from warnings through to suspensions. Issues like this are highly unlikely to change with the new standards.

The GPhC’s guidance for standard 6, ‘behaving in a professional manner’, is perhaps more controversial. In some respects, it is an amalgamation of the previous standards 1, 3 and 6, reiterating that pharmacy professionals must treat people with respect and act with honesty and integrity.

Where the new standards go further, and arguably impose a more onerous burden on registrants, is that the new standard repeats the caution that behaving professionally is not limited to the working day and that the importance of maintaining confidence in the profession calls for appropriate behaviour at all times.

Examples are given of the need to be ‘polite and considerate.’ On the face of it, most people would like to expect politeness and consideration from others. However, in the real world, pharmacy professionals, like all others are still human and few, if any, manage to maintain a demonstration of politeness and consideration, outside of work, at all times.

There are plenty of examples with the current 7 standards, in force since July 2012, where pharmacy professionals have faced fitness to practise proceedings as a result of an event in their private lives, where the public interest or the integrity of the profession was said to be at risk.
A common example is when behaviour, sometimes amounting to a criminal offence, which has nothing to do with a pharmacy professional’s work results in a referral to the GPhC’s Fitness to Practise Committee. Examples include theft (outside of work), drink driving or offences of violence.

Our experience is that registrants frequently have difficulty understanding what the event has to do with them being a good pharmacist. The answer is that whilst it may not impact on their clinical ability, an assessment of their character is part of the cost of being a regulated professional.
The court has consistently upheld the principle that the reputation of a profession and public confidence in it, is more important than the fortunes of any individual member, citing that the membership of a profession brings benefits, but also costs.

In the High Court challenge brought by the PDA, the judge gave the example that a pharmacist who was impolite over a board game need not lose sleep. However, a racist tirade on social media may result in a fitness to practise investigation, as it may shed light on how a pharmacist might provide professional services.

It may also affect the trust and confidence of patients and the public in pharmacy professionals. The Judge urged the standards to be applied with common sense. It remains to be seen exactly how the GPhC will seek to interpret the new standards in fitness to practise proceedings.
Those of us who regularly represent pharmacists before the GPhC’s Fitness to Practise Committee anticipate legal arguments about what amounts to common sense when applying these new standards.

Click on the link for Richard Nelsons’ resource on GPhC fitness to practice.