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GPhC fails PSA standards and launches consultation on Fitness to Practise

Posted: Wednesday, November 4th, 2020

The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) has just published its annual review of the GPhC’s performance. The report can be accessed here 

The GPhC failed to meet three out of five standards and in relation to one of the two standards that were met, the PSA had “significant queries about the robustness of the GPhC’s triage process for fitness to practise referrals” and the PSA’s decision “finely balanced”.

The timeliness of processing fitness to practise cases seems to have been a concern that the PSA has commented on every year. The PSA said:

“… improvements we were expecting to see in the overall end to end timeframe for concluding…cases had not materialised…and our audit found avoidable or unexplained delays in a high proportion of the cases we reviewed.”

All timeframes were heading in the wrong direction. In numbers, it took:

The GPhC had more than twice as many open cases older than 156 weeks than it did in 2015/16.

We reported a few months ago that the GPhC had presented a new Fitness to Practise strategy to its Council. The GPhC has just launched a consultation on the strategy. A link to the consultation is here . PLEA plans to respond to the consultation. If you have any particular views you want us to reflect, please email our Chair, David Reissner, at by 30 November 2020.

GPhC responds to Times investigation by serving improvement notice

Posted: Thursday, October 29th, 2020

The GPhC continues to make use of its newish powers under the Pharmacy Premises Regulations. Responding to a story about a pharmacy "sell[ing] hormones for trans children online", the GPhC has carried out an inspection and served an improvement notice on the owner of the pharmacy. The improvement notice can be accessed here  

DHSC consultation on amending Human Medicines Regulations

Posted: Friday, September 18th, 2020

The Department of Health and Social Care has just completed a consultation (conducted over only three weeks) on amending the Human Medicines Regulations (HMR). The aim of the proposed amendments is to enable COVID-19 vaccines (when available) to be used before there has been time to grant a marketing authorisation “if there is a compelling case, on public health grounds, for using a vaccine before it is given a product licence”.

Currently, regulation 345 of the HMR gives immunity from liability for loss and damage where the MHRA recommends or requires the use of a product without a marketing authorisation. Regulation 345 currently extends immunity to manufacturers, marketing authorisation holders, their employees and health care professionals. The amendments proposed to the HMR include extending immunity from liability for loss and damage to pharmaceutical companies that place unlicensed products on the market; and also to extend immunity to other health care workers.

GPhC interim suspension extended by High Court

Posted: Monday, August 17th, 2020

On 5 July 2020 reported on GPhC v Kellett and Gamble in which the High Court had refused a GPhC application to continue an interim suspension pending a full fitness to practise hearing. In another case on 11 August 2020, General Pharmaceutical Council v Umar, the High Court continued an interim suspension order for 9 months.

The registrant, Ms Umar, had admitted to her employer that she was addicted to codeine and had been taking codeine products from them over a long period. In September 2019, an interim suspension order was made for 12 months pending an investigation. A criminal investigation for theft had started, was then delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and ended with a police caution.

The GPhC argued that a 9-month continuation of the interim suspension was necessary because of the delay to the criminal investigation and other matters.

The Court regarded the allegation of theft from an employer as serious, and the alleged actions posed a risk of harm to the registrant herself and to public confidence in the profession. The prejudice to the registrant resulting from the interim suspension was outweighed by the public interest in preventing her from working as a pharmacist while she was or might be unfit to do so because of her admitted addiction and the risk of her having unrestricted access to medication that might tempt her to self-medicate.

Cumberlege review of Medicines and Medical Devices

Posted: Wednesday, July 15th, 2020

The Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review published its report on 8 July. Chaired by Baroness Cumberlege, the report is entitled First Do No Harm. The report includes a number of issues that relate to pharmacy.

Baroness Cumberlege’s team investigated what had happened in respect of two medicines and one medical device:

  1. hormone pregnancy tests, such as Primodos, which were withdrawn from the market in the late 1970s and which are thought to be associated with birth defects and miscarriages;
  2. sodium valproate, an anti-epileptic drug which causes physical malformations, autism and developmental delay in many children when it is taken by their mothers during pregnancy; and
  3. pelvic mesh implants, the use of which has been linked to crippling, life-changing complications.

Baroness Cumberlege referred to the harrowing stories of the women who had been affected by these devices and medicines. The report refers to:







Recommendations include:

  1. Creating the post of Patient Safety Commissioner.


  1. A Redress Agency as an alternative to litigation when things go wrong. A healthcare system should aim to eliminate avoidable harm: an open, honest culture in which mistakes are learned from and barriers to disclosure are removed is overdue and essential.


  1. For both medicines and medical devices, there is a need for more robust, publicly accessible post-marketing surveillance. This should include mandatory requirements on healthcare organisations to report adverse events within a designated time period. The MHRA should provide assessments of the risks of individual medicines or devices and of classes of medicines or device where one or more members of the class carries an elevated risk.


  1. The Yellow Card system should be reformed to provide a “user-friendly, accessible, transparent repository of adverse event reports.”


  1. An online system for the Pregnancy Prevention Programme should be accessible by pharmacists at the point of dispensing.


  1. When the EU Medical Devices Regulation is implemented after the Brexit transition period, the UK should adopt its more stringent standards and there are areas where further improvements should be made.


  1. A register of medical devices should be created and maintained by the MHRA so that it is possible to know what devices are (or were) on the market at any given time. Entry on the register should be a condition for selling in the UK, with the MHRA having power to de-register devices and remove them from sale, if necessary. The MHRA would be more like a licensing authority than in the past, with a greater emphasis on vigilance.

CMA concludes fludrocortisone case with £2.3m fines

Posted: Friday, July 10th, 2020

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced that it has closed its investigation into the supply of fludrocortisone, a prescription-only medicine mainly used to treat primary or secondary adrenal insufficiency, commonly known as Addison’s Disease.

The CMA found that the pharmaceutical companies Amilco and Tiofarma agreed to stay out of the fludrocortisone market so that Aspen could maintain its position as the sole supplier in the UK.

In exchange, Amilco received a 30% share of the increased prices that Aspen was able to charge, and Tiofarma was given the right to be the sole manufacturer of the drug for direct sale in the UK.

Following the agreement, the price of fludrocortisone supplied to the NHS increased by up to 1800%.

All 3 companies involved in the agreement – Aspen, Tiofarma, and Amilco – admitted to taking part in an anti-competitive agreement regarding the supply of fludrocortisone tablets.

The CMA has levied fines totalling just under £2.3 million for this illegal behaviour.

As well as the fines, Aspen approached the CMA last year and agreed to pay the NHS £8 million to help resolve the CMA’s competition concerns in relation to fludrocortisone. This payment has now been made.


GPhC proposed Fitness to Practise strategy

Posted: Friday, July 10th, 2020

Just after we reported High Court criticism of fitness to practise delays by the GPhC, the GPhC presented to its Council for consideration on 9 July 2020 a proposed Fitness to Practise strategy. Excerpts from the strategy include:

“A pharmacy professional may not be fit to practise for a number of reasons, for example if their behaviour is putting patients at risk, they are practising in an unsafe way, or their health may be affecting their ability to make safe judgements about their patients. Our current approach to dealing with concerns about pharmacy professionals is too often cumbersome, lengthy and inefficient. This means it can be frustrating to patients, professionals and employers alike.

We will only use formal fitness to practise processes when it is absolutely necessary and seek early solutions and remediation where appropriate. Most registrants who have difficulties in their practice are willing and able to improve and resolve the problem. We want to break down the barriers that stop them from doing so as early as possible and we will work with employers, other regulators and those that set our standards to achieve this goal.

…shifting the balance towards more anticipatory, proportionate and tailored approaches to regulating pharmacy. We are developing our equality, diversity and inclusion strategy in parallel with this fitness to practise strategy

[Our approach] is still perceived as being overly legalistic, adversarial and time-consuming. It is largely rigid and reactive when it needs to be flexible and proactive

We need to understand more about why BAME professionals are disproportionately represented in the concerns we receive and those that progress through the process. We need to understand more about the impact of a professional not having legal representation, or not attending a hearing, as our analysis indicates these factors can result in a more serious outcome.

We have successfully held some remote hearings during the pandemic with the consent of everyone involved and the response has been positive whilst public protection has been maintained. We are keen to take the positive learning from this period and to hear stakeholders’ views on the potential benefits of continuing with some remote hearings in future, including the types of circumstances when this might be appropriate.

We will:

We will also develop proposals for making more enquiries in the early stages of our process after receiving a concern (triage). Making initial enquiries within a set framework will help us ensure the right concerns are investigated and those that can be resolved through alternative means are dealt with quicker.

We will also:

GPhC fitness to practise application refused by High Court

Posted: Sunday, July 5th, 2020

On 19 February 2020, we reported that the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) had criticised the General Pharmaceutical Council’s handling of fitness to practise cases. Amongst other things, the PSA concluded that at over 93 weeks on average from the initial complaint, the GPhC is still taking too long to bring cases to a final hearing.

The High Court has just considered an application by the GPhC to extend an interim suspension of two pharmacists pending a full hearing by the Fitness to Practise Committee.

In General Pharmaceutical Council v Kellett and Gamble [2020] 6 WLUK 456, the pharmacists, Kellett and Gamble, were a husband and wife who were directors of a company that owned three pharmacies and held a wholesale dealer’s licence. Gamble was the superintendent. In 2016, the police found a large number of Class C controlled drugs, such as zopiclone, at their premises. They were arrested by the police for unlawful possession and supply of Class C controlled drugs. They informed the GPhC of the investigation. They also terminated their wholesale business.

In January 2017, the Fitness to Practise Committee imposed an interim suspension for the maximum period of 18 months to be reviewed every 6 months. The suspension could then be extended by the High Court for successive periods of up to 6 months.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) began an investigation, but the MHRA’s in-house lawyer did not review the papers until May 2020, only to find that further work was required before a file could be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for a decision on whether to charge the two pharmacists with any offence.

After previous extensions of the interim suspension order, the suspensions were due to run out on 5 July 2020. The GPhC applied to the High Court for a further extension. The MHRA was still not in a position to send the papers to the CPS.

The pharmacists argued that there had been an unconscionable delay of four years, yet there was still no clear indication

Mr Justice Soole ruled that the court had to take into account two competing questions: whether it would be acceptable not to suspend if, at the end of the day, the pharmacists were found guilty, and whether it would be acceptable to suspend if, at the end of the day the pharmacists were acquitted on all charges. Having considered the evidence and submissions, he found:


VAT change for medicines prescribed by EEA health professionals

Posted: Friday, July 3rd, 2020

Medicines prescribed by medical practitioners are zero-rated, but only if the prescriber is registered with the General Medical Council. Although it has for some time been lawful for prescriptions written by doctors registered in EEA countries to be dispensed in the UK, the medicines dispensed have not been zero-rated. The distinction seems arbitrary and has led to large claims for VAT for some UK pharmacies, mainly ones providing online services. In 2016, Pearl Chemist received a demand for £156,782.41. They unsuccessfully challenged the lawfulness of the restriction of zero-rating for supplies prescribed by doctors not on the GMC register - Pearl Chemist v Revenue and Customs  Commissioners [2019] UKFTT 264.

HMRC have just published an amended notice on zero-rating adding EEA health professionals to the list of practitioners who can prescribe zero-rated medicines.

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These news items are not exhaustive but are selected according to their relevance to pharmacy practice, NHS community pharmacy contracts and the regulation of the pharmacy profession. If you wish to add any items that you think we have missed, contact our news editor.