A permanent rule change to allow the continuation of remote fitness-to-practise hearings has been agreed by the GPhC Council. 

The change in GPhC’s rules means its fitness to practise hearings and meetings can be held either remotely or in-person in the future. 

The decision yesterday (12 May) comes after a 12-week consultation, which received 483 responses - the majority from pharmacy professionals - with 78% in favour of continuing remote hearings, on the back of video link hearings during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The GPhC said hearings will only be held remotely ‘when it is fair and appropriate to do so'.

The pharmacy regulator said: ‘Many responses highlighted the effectiveness of remote hearings in terms of travelling time and costs incurred by registrants and the GPhC itself. 

‘Remote hearings were also seen as more efficient, enabling cases to be listed and therefore resolved quicker.’ 

Other advantages highlighted were that remote hearings could be ‘more flexible for participants in terms of scheduling dates and times to attend, and more accessible for people with disabilities and other accessibility needs.’

Concerns raised by those not in favour of continuing remote hearings included 'the risk of technological problems, including poor Wi-Fi connection,’ the GPhC said, as well as ‘the loss of non-verbal communication such as body language, compared to in-person hearings.’

The GPhC agreed to review its existing guidance on remote hearings, in light of the consultation analysis, with a view to bringing a further report to Council to agree a policy and guidance document on remote hearings in September. 

GPhC chief executive, Duncan Rudkin, said: ‘During the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown and restrictions, we had to hold many meetings and hearings remotely by video link. As such, we were granted – along with other regulators – a temporary provision to enable us to do this and carry out our statutory role. 

‘We found people responded well to remote hearings. For example, registrants seemed more likely to attend a remote hearing than an in-person one. Feedback from those taking part was also mostly positive and supported the idea of remote hearings in the future. Our consultation has also highlighted potential benefits of remote hearings for people, including people sharing protected characteristics such as disability and pregnancy. 

‘Now Council has approved the rule change, the updated rules will go to the Privy Council for approval before being laid in the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments.’ 

The rules are expected to come into force on 1 October this year. Until the rules and new policy and guidance come into force, the GPhC will continue to only hold remote hearings with the consent of the person concerned and/or their legal representative. 

As it is the ‘third consecutive year’ the regulator has failed to meet these standards, the PSA said it ‘will be monitoring the GPhC’s performance in these areas closely.'