The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and eight other healthcare regulators have released a joint statement on how to manage conflicts of interest, including cases of doctors having commercial interests in pharmacy.

In the UK, GPs who own pharmacies have been criticised for their business interests, including allegations of directing prescriptions.

This led the GPhC, alongside eight other healthcare regulators including the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI), General Medical Council (GMC), Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and General Dental Council (GDC), to issue a statement on financial and commercial arrangements in 2013.

The guidance dealt with issues including gifts and donations, incentives, relationships with the pharmaceutical industry and making decisions about patient care under conflicts of interest.

Now, the regulators have updated this with a statement on handling conflicts of interest. The statement describes how healthcare professionals can avoid, or if not possible declare and manage, conflicts of interest.

It is designed to support the professional standards, codes and guidance of the regulators, which they say should remain ‘the overriding consideration’ for healthcare professionals.

The statement asks health and social care professionals to:

  • Put the interests of people in their care before their own interests or those of any colleague or organisation,
  • Consider where potential conflicts of interest may arise and be open about them,
  • Refuse gifts, favours or hospitality which could be interpreted as an attempt to gain preferential treatment,
  • Reflect on their own learning and CPD needs regarding conflicts of interest,
  • Ensure patients have access to visible information on any fees or charging policies for which they are responsible.

GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin said: ‘By working closely with our fellow regulators, we are underlining the consistent expectations of health professionals in managing conflicts of interest, to help give patients and the public the assurance that their interests will always be put above any other interest a health professional may have.

'The joint statement supports the principles and guidance outlined in our standards for pharmacy professionals; and I hope the statement and case studies will provide helpful insight to for our registrants when facing potential conflicts of interest.’


Prescription direction

The GPhC, PSNI and GMC also published a case study on prescription direction. The case study describes a GP whose employer has recently bought a local pharmacy and has been told to encourage her patients to get their prescriptions from there.

The regulators say professionals in similar situations should always put patient interests first and use their professional judgement.

In this particular case, it would be inappropriate to make any recommendations to patients and the GP should remind their employer of their professional responsibilities. The statement also says GPs should check that patients are happy with their nominated pharmacy and advise about other options if necessary.