The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has launched a consultation on its new fitness to practise (FTP) strategy, which outlines plans to investigate why the regulator receives a disproportionately high number of concerns about black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) pharmacists.

In the consultation document, published last week (29 October), the regulator proposed collecting more data about the person or group filing the FTP concern; so that they can take ‘appropriate action’ and deal with ‘any bias that we discover’.

By using this data, the body hopes to find trends and factors that appear regularly in concerns.

‘We need to better understand why we get a higher number of concerns about black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) professionals than we ought to expect statistically,’ the document said.

‘Also, when we progress a concern, we need to be sure that we are minimising and dealing with the risk of potential biases in our decision-making,’ it added.

The body also proposed working with other organisations who were facing ‘similar challenges’, so that it can ‘learn and adopt the best practices for dealing with this disproportionate representation, both when concerns are raised and throughout the process.’

Length of investigations

The document also referred to minimising ‘adverse impact’ on the mental health of people being investigated over concerns, by ‘cutting down the time it takes to conclude cases’.

‘Investigations into concerns about professionals take a long time and can be frustrating for everyone involved,’ the document said.

‘We need to make more progress on cutting down the time it takes to conclude cases. We accept that in the interests of fairness, some cases need more in-depth investigation. This will inevitably take time. But we need to find a balance and make efficiencies where we can, taking no longer than necessary to achieve the right outcome,’ it added.

The GPhC added that conducting lengthy and additional investigations also ‘puts pressure on resources’ and it needed to work ‘smarter’ within its legal limits so cases can be concluded faster.

‘Heading in the right direction’

Elsy Campos, the president of the UK Black Pharmacists Association - who herself has been investigated by the GPhC and later acquitted - welcomed the proposed changes.

She said: ‘This is the right thing to do, and means things are heading in the right direction. If you speak to any BAME pharmacist they are terrified they might be reported to the FTP committee by a patient to their employer.’

She added that the GPhC needed to look at their own practices because they ‘might have answers about why complaints are being disproportionately referred to them’.

In particular, Ms Campos believed that the body needed to ‘look into their process’ to see if they can do anything better, including assessing the people who are investigating cases and deciding which cases are worthy of investigation.

‘The message that needs to be sent out to employers and the population is that you can refer a pharmacist to the FTP only when there are legitimate reasons to do so,’ she said.

New approach

Duncan Rudkin, GPhC chief executive, said it was clear that the regulator’s current approach to fitness to practise ‘needs to change’.

He added: ‘This strategy will help us improve how we manage concerns about pharmacy professionals and help us to achieve our Vision 2030. Our new approach will also help us to identify where there may be wider system failures that have contributed to things going wrong, which we need to work with others to address.

‘We would encourage everyone to respond to the consultation and we are particularly keen to hear the views of patients and the public and pharmacy professionals, including those who have been involved in a fitness to practise concern.’