As pharmacy teams battled the first wave of Covid- 19, the GPhC did the kind, sensible thing when it paused inspections and offered support where it could; for example by easing its revalidation requirements. Yet move forward a few months and it has been making some curious decisions.
Many were surprised when locums were warned not to take advantage of the crisis by seeking to negotiate higher rates. The ethical case may have been clear, but was this really a matter for the regulator?
Chief executive Duncan Rudkin pointed to the GPhC standard requiring pharmacies to “uphold public perception”. Some argued this was rather a woolly justification for a health regulator weighing in on commercial matters.
It was a similar story with the ban on antibody testing in pharmacies, first announced in July. It is clear that antibody tests are iffy from a public health perspective, but the same could be said of many items sold in your average high street pharmacy. Could it be that, when the GPhC sees something it doesn’t like, it is prepared to pick a standard, any standard, and make it fit the supposed crime?
It is worth noting that none of the other health watchdogs took the GPhC’s hardline stance on antibody tests. Perhaps as the newest kid on the block (it is only a decade old, after all) it is keen to prove its stripes.
An ‘eager beaver’ regulatory style runs the risk of overreach and subsequent U-turns, which may be what is coming down the road regarding Covid-19 testing in pharmacies – the GPhC said in October that it was reviewing its position. The announcement came days after Boots launched its rapid antigen testing service, raising suspicions that the regulator’s hand was being forced by the UK’s most powerful chain.
The GPhC had never prohibited antigen testing in pharmacies, but public health agencies do not recommend it. Would the regulator tell Boots to comply with this advice, as it had told others not to sell antibody tests – or would it baulk at taking the multiple on? The timing of the review hints, perhaps, at the latter.
The GPhC has shown that as an organisation it can be open and self-reflective, as demonstrated by its new approach to FtP cases, which is currently under consultation. In particular, the regulator appears determined to root out any institutional bias against BAME registrants, and this is to be lauded.
However, it may be time for a rethink on other aspects of its approach. The GPhC holds a unique position of power over pharmacists’ careers, and this must be wielded carefully. Regulating on the fly like this could endanger livelihoods unnecessarily.
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