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Anticipating the future

11 February 2016

Photo of chief executive Duncan Rudkin

In this issue, chief executive Duncan Rudkin looks at the significant changes ahead in 2016

We are only six weeks into 2016 and already it has become clear that this will be another year of significant change in pharmacy – genuinely justifying the cliché ‘challenge and opportunity’, perhaps. And I’m conscious that for many of you, especially those of you who work in community pharmacy in England, 2016 may have started off with a great deal of concern and uncertainty about the future. Before Christmas the Department of Health published a number of proposed changes to the pharmacy contract and pharmacy services in England, but it was the proposed reduction in the total funding commitment which has inevitably been the focus of a lot of debate.

I appreciate that is an emotive issue which affects people’s livelihoods. And you may be asking what the GPhC’s position is on the government proposals. Let me emphasise that the GPhC operates independently of governments and of the pharmacy professions and of contractors, and is not involved in making decisions about funding pharmacy. We are here to work on behalf of patients and the public and to protect, promote and maintain their health, safety and wellbeing; our role is not to advocate for the profession, for pharmacy owners or for government.

It is our responsibility, however, to listen to governments across Great Britain, to the NHS and other employers, to registrants and above all to patients and others who use pharmacy services, to be aware of how pharmacy may change in the future. We need to understand these changes so we can ensure that the standards we set are fit not just for today, but for the future. And so we will be holding major consultations in the next 12-18 months on standards for pharmacy professionals, for registered pharmacies and for the education and training of the pharmacy team to ensure that these standards are achievable and appropriate. We will need your input into these consultations to help us understand how you think pharmacy professional practice will and should change (whether or not you see these as the same thing!).

Efficiency and effectiveness

We continue to focus on ensuring we are using registrants’ fees efficiently and effectively. Last week our council approved our budget for 2016/17 and decided to maintain registrants’ fees at the current level for October 2016-17.  We are reducing our operating costs for 2016/17 so we don’t have to raise fees, despite continuing growth in the volume of cases we are having to deal with. It is our intention to achieve greater efficiencies on top of what we’ve already achieved over the past financial year, while continuing to achieve our ambitious aims.

Reserving judgement

It is very important that the pharmacists and pharmacy technicians that we regulate have confidence in us as their regulator and so we carefully consider all feedback and comments from registrants about our work. Recently, some registrants have raised concerns in the media about the actions we have taken so far in a high-profile case involving an internet pharmacy.

My team and I understand the frustration some registrants may feel when they think we should be taking immediate action in a particular case involving an individual pharmacy professional or pharmacy business. While our process may take longer than many would like, our duty is to thoroughly investigate and consider all available evidence before taking action. We aim to provide updates whenever possible, however, it would be inappropriate—and unfair—to discuss ongoing cases; doing so could prejudice any future hearings and the outcome of the case.   It is right that registrants let us know when they think we have not taken the right action. But we are not in the business of arbitrary judgement or trial by comment columns.

New powers for regulating registered pharmacies

Finally, I’d like to add that I’m delighted that the UK and Scottish Parliaments are now considering new legislation which will give us important powers to improve the way in which we regulate registered pharmacies. The order will allow us to publish reports from our inspections and take proportionate enforcement action against pharmacies where necessary. Once this legislation has gone through, we will seek your views later this year on changes to our approach to regulating registered pharmacies.