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Inspection reports must not mislead

The GPhC’s proposed new pharmacy inspection process, which includes publishing reports, must be fair, says NPA policy manager Helga Mangion

NOWADAYS it is easier than ever to access and share information and this raises expectations in terms of transparency and customer service. The performance of schools, the cleanliness of restaurants and MPs’ expenses are all available at the click of a mouse.

NHS Choices encourages patients to review their pharmacy, GP, dentist and other health providers online but, unlike these other providers, the pharmacy regulator does not currently publish its reports.

The GPhC consultation, ‘Developing our approach to regulating registered pharmacies’, reflects some of these issues. The NPA agrees with the principle of the publication of reports, provided they are not misleading to the public. Reports should contain only data that informs consumer decision-making, uncluttered by technical details that are useless for that purpose.

We would also like to see the new inspection process embedded for a period of time, prior to introducing any form of published reporting. Any inspection regimen must balance the rights and expectations of patients and taxpayers with the practicalities of delivering clinical services, using fair and clear measures of success. It is this part of the GPhC’s proposals that is giving us some serious concerns.

Unannounced visits

The NPA is not aware of any other part of the health sector being subject to unannounced visits, yet this is what the GPhC is proposing. Regular unannounced visits have been deemed unmanageable for hospitals with thousands of staff. How a pharmacy with just one pharmacist on duty would manage is unclear.

Such visits are also at odds with a convention inspectors are keen to emphasise, namely that their visits are about collaboration and learning. We agree unannounced visits are necessary in some cases, but they should be the exception and not the norm.

We also have concerns about the nature of the proposed overall outcomes of ‘standards met’ or ‘standards not all met’. The 26 standards for registered pharmacies are grouped under five principles. Some of these are operationally based with little to no impact on patient safety, while others directly impact on patient safety.

The GPhC’s binary proposal will not easily accommodate or articulate this important distinction. The NPA suggests that the GPhC inspections are reflective of the overall balance of risk to the public. This would allow for a fair and robust system with meaningful reporting.

While we support the overriding principle with regard to inspections, as always the devil is in the detail – and there are other elements of the consultation that we disagree with. NPA members can read our full response on our website.

In the meantime, the NPA will work with the GPhC and seek assurances that the new inspection process is fair and balanced, robust and objective, before any reports are published.

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