The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has been given the green light to use covert surveillance powers as part of its pharmacy investigations, The Pharmacist has learned.
Covert surveillance powers would allow the GPhC to monitor a pharmacy, including with a hidden camera or audio recorder, without their knowledge in certain situations.
While the powers allow the GPhC to monitor a pharmacy or individual without their knowledge, the GPhC is not currently authorised to use undercover investigators who interact with the subject of the surveillance.
GPhC chief Duncan Rudkin confirmed to The Pharmacist in an exclusive interview that the regulator has been given the go ahead to use the powers, providing the legal conditions are met in each individual case.
All covert surveillance that is likely to collect private information, such as details of a person’s private or family life, must be authorised by a GPhC director.
Authorisation is only granted when covert surveillance is used as part of a specific investigation and is deemed proportionate and necessary to prevent or detect crime, to protect public health or in the interests of public safety.
In July 2018, an update to legislation transferred covert surveillance powers from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB), which ceased to be the pharmacy regulator in 2011, to the GPhC.
Following an inspection by a regulator in May, the GPhC was deemed to be ‘on track’ to use covert investigative methods, according to its council meeting papers published earlier this month.
Mr Rudkin told The Pharmacist that the regulator has now been granted the powers.
He said: ‘We’ve got the scope now to use the new powers and we will do that as and when we need to, in accordance with the policy and the legal framework.’
He stressed that the GPhC will use the powers if needed in both online and face-to-face contexts, including as part of community pharmacy inspections, but that he expects use of the powers to be ‘a rare event’.
The GPhC council papers said: ‘We will only carry out directed surveillance in very limited cases where such action is justified and all relevant criteria are met.
‘Directed surveillance will always be a last resort in an investigation and will only be undertaken where this is properly authorised, lawful, proportionate and necessary, and where there are no other reasonable and less intrusive means of obtaining the information required.’