A petition asking the Department of Health and Social Care to reject remote supervision proposals is based on a “misunderstanding”, the Government has claimed, saying there are "no current proposals" to remove the requirement that a pharmacist must supervise the sale of POM and P medicines "at or from a registered pharmacy".
Pharmacist Mariam Ahmed’s petition calls on the Government to protect the “fundamental patient right that a qualified pharmacist is available on site at all times”. It has received over 10,000 signatures, thereby requiring a Government response.
It was made in response to a 2018 consultation from the Government’s rebalancing board dealing with dispensing errors in hospitals and with the roles of responsible pharmacists and superintendent pharmacists.
The consultation included a controversial proposal to transfer powers to regulate responsible pharmacists’ statutory responsibilities from Government ministers to the General Pharmaceutical Council.
In its response, the Government said the petition reflects a “misunderstanding” of rebalancing board's proposals. It said supervision by a pharmacist, which concerns medicine supply and is sometimes called “transactional governance”, is “distinct and separate” from the role of the responsible pharmacist, which is concerned with “organisational governance”.
However, “both roles may be undertaken by the same pharmacist at the same time”, the Government added.
The Government said neither it nor the rebalancing board “have formulated proposals in relation to “remote supervision” or the supervision of the sale or supply of medicines by someone other than a registered pharmacist".
The Government said giving the GPhC powers to make exceptions to the “general rule that a responsible pharmacist can only be in charge of one pharmacy at a time” would involve transferring existing powers from ministers to the regulator rather than creating new powers.
This is in keeping with the rebalancing board’s ethos of placing greater emphasis on professional regulation than criminal law, the Government said.
If the GPhC seeks at any point to make exceptions to the rule, any such proposals “would be subject to a full public consultation and ministerial approval” the Government said.
According to a statement from February 6, the rebalancing board met in October and November to discuss the 632 responses to the consultation and subsequently recommended that each of its consultation proposals be progressed with some minor amendments. The final decision on whether to progress the draft legislation rests with ministers and Parliament.
The proposal to transfer exception-making powers to the GPhC has been controversial among pharmacists. Some have argued this would be a necessary modernising influence on pharmacy practice while others have expressed concerns it could pave the way to remote supervision and could be exploited by companies seeking to reduce personnel costs.
The Pharmacists’ Defence Association supported Ms Ahmed’s petition. In its response to the consultation the PDA said the Government has not “first ensured that the pharmacy regulator is ready or fit for purpose” to undertake the ‘rebalancing’ exercise that has been proposed.
The PDA warned that giving the regulator exception-making powers – which despite existing in legislation have never been used – “would create an unacceptable risk to patient safety and expose pharmacists unfairly to criminal and civil prosecution".
Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Ash Soni supported the proposals but stressed that the RPS “has always been clear that every pharmacy should have a responsible pharmacist”.
Mr Soni said the RPS would be “challenging the GPhC to make sure there is a defined and specific description of the ‘exceptional’ circumstances where pharmacists, not employers, would use their judgement to make sure patients have access to essential medicine”.
The National Pharmacy Association also voiced its opposition to remote supervision “in almost any circumstance” and asked what criteria the regulator would draw on to make exceptions to the rule.
The NPA said it was “concerned that the level of public scrutiny that any proposals would be subjected to is being reduced”.