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GPhC defends antibody test ban

It is “legitimate and appropriate” for the General Pharmaceutical Council to take action over issues “which might traditionally have been classified as retail,” chief executive Duncan Rudkin has claimed.

Speaking exclusively to Pharmacy Network News, Mr Rudkin said the regulator was entitled to pursue pharmacies and pharmacists over matters such as the private provision of Covid-19 antibody testing - the GPhC says no pharmacist should offer antibody tests of any kind - which while legal is not advised by public health bodies.

The GPhC has sparked controversy during the pandemic by issuing statements on this and other commercial matters, including locum rates and the pricing of hand sanitisers. 

Mr Rudkin said that matters relating to public health and public perception of pharmacies have always fallen within the GPhC’s remit, adding that medicines and medical devices “are not ordinary items of commerce”.

Commenting on the pandemic period, he said: “[The sector] has had a light shone on it like never before and in that context anything that could risk undermining public confidence on the public health side, including decisions which might traditionally have been classified as retail… are nonetheless issues for us as a regulator”. 

Asked what actions the GPhC will take against registrants who offer coronavirus antibody testing in defiance of warnings, he said the regulator had “two different sets of tools” – fitness to practise procedures and “relatively new enforcement powers in relation to pharmacies”.

The GPhC appears to be alone among health regulators in taking such a firm stance on antibody testing. The General Medical Council told PNN it expected doctors to be clear with patients about the implications of test results and to only use verified tests. The Care Quality Commission said it encouraged providers “to only use tests for coronavirus that have been approved in a laboratory setting”.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland said it was still developing its position. The Nurses and Midwives Council did not respond.

When asked whether the GPhC might one day decide to extend its public health remit by forbidding pharmacies from selling homeopathy products or confectionery, he said the regulator was taking decisions in the context of the pandemic and planned to assess “whether there are any longer-term implications” for how it regulates the sector.

Mr Rudkin said he “wouldn’t jump to conclusions” regarding how the regulator’s “public health dimension” could develop but did not rule anything out.

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