The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has proposed changes that it says would strengthen its guidance around discrimination for fitness to practise (FtP) panels.

In proposed guidance, it urged FtP committees to consider outcomes ‘from the upper end of the scale’ when dealing with concerns around discriminatory views and behaviour because of their ‘serious nature’ and ‘the impact on public trust and confidence in the profession’.

The GPhC also said the guidance will ensure that panel members consider cultural sensitivities and differences when taking account of expressions of apology and insight.

For instance, it said that someone communicating in a second language may be constructing their sentences in a different way, or there may be differences in the way individuals use non-verbal cues such as eye contact or facial expressions.

The proposed guidance contains examples of what would be considered discriminatory behaviour, such as:

  • A conviction for racist and/or religious hate crime, or other racially or religiously aggravated offences, for which it would expect removal as the outcome
  • Bullying or harassment from a superintendent pharmacist to a staff member, for which it would expect an outcome from the upper end of the scale
  • An employment tribunal finding a registrant was discriminated against by their employer, who was referred to the GPhC, for which it would expect an outcome from the upper end of the scale – most likely removal
  • A pharmacy professional making racially motivated comments on social media, which are investigated by the police but do not result in conviction, for which it would expect an outcome from the upper end of the scale

The GPhC noted that in these cases, ‘the conduct is unlikely to be remediated’, meaning that it may not be possible to deal with the issue through steps such as training courses or supervision at work – although a committee would take any such steps into account when deciding on the outcome.

It continued: ‘When considering insight and remorse, a committee will need to be satisfied that behaviour of this nature has been addressed. It would expect to see comprehensive insight and remorse from an early stage, which deals with the specific concerns that have been raised.

‘Also, it must be satisfied that discriminatory views and behaviour are no longer present. This is so that members of the public can be confident that there is no risk of repetition.’

Amandeep Doll, head of professional belonging at the RPS, said that members had raised concerns about the current process, and that it was ‘positive to see the GPhC commit to strengthen their decision making guidance for fitness to practise committees to cover how they should consider concerns about discrimination and to be more culturally aware’.

‘To maintain the confidence of the profession, bias and discrimination must be rooted out and addressed to ensure those undergoing proceedings are not disadvantaged in any way’, she added.

The regulatory body is seeking feedback on its proposed additions to the guidance until 31 January 2023.

Ms Doll said that the RPS was ‘keen to see that cases of racism and discrimination are taken with the utmost seriousness and the appropriate support given to all parties involved’, and that the RPS would respond to the consultation as an organisation and through engagement with its inclusion and diversity group.

Mark Pitt, director of defence services at the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), said that the PDA would also be providing a full response to the consultation.

He continued: ‘Regulatory investigations and the conduct of fitness to practise hearings, like all of society, must be inclusive and free from all types of discrimination.  It is important to recognise that there is no hierarchy of discrimination and for example misogyny, transphobia, cultural/religious bias, and ageism are each equally unacceptable, as is intersectional discrimination concerning those with certain combinations of characteristics, which can create a greater disadvantage.

‘We also know that discrimination can manifest not just in the apparent negative treatment of one group, but sometimes in an advantage given to others.  We need to see equal treatment of all people regardless of any protected characteristics.

‘The PDA wishes to support the regulator in doing all it can to remove the risk of discriminatory and unfair aspects to their processes.’