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Watchdog questions if GPhC can hold large businesses to account

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Watchdog questions if GPhC can hold large businesses to account

A recent report from the Professional Standards Authority recommends that the Government considers whether the GPhC and other regulators have sufficient powers to “hold businesses to account”.

The PSA, which oversees the UK’s nine health professional regulators, notes in its Safer Care for All report that bodies such as the GPhC that are tasked with regulating businesses as well as individual registrants face “challenges in holding corporate entities to accounts” in part due to a “power imbalance”. 

The PSA said that as well as being “outstripped financially by large businesses,” the GPhC may be reluctant to impose penalties such as “the most serious sanction of erasure” on branches of large pharmacy businesses as they “play an integral role in the delivery of healthcare in the community”.

“These businesses may, in effect, come close to being too big to fail,” said the PSA. 

The report recommends that the Government should “use the current programme of regulatory reform to review the adequacy and effectiveness of the powers of regulators with a role in regulating businesses”.

Speaking to Independent Community Pharmacist in July, GPhC chief Duncan Rudkin rejected claims that the regulator is too soft on the large multiples, claiming: “There’s no differential treatment for certain companies compared to the rest of community pharmacy.

“We dish out positive feedback and challenge [with] enforcement action where we find the need wherever that lies.”

Ambiguity around commercial decisions

The PSA report also highlights the ambiguity surrounding the GPhC’s ability to influence commercial decisions taken by businesses.

It notes that while it typically takes a “hands off” approach on matters that “have no medicinal or practice-related element,” this was set aside during the pandemic when the GPhC teamed up with the Competition and Markets Authority to warn pharmacies against price-gouging on items that were in high demand.

A stronger approach on business matters that impact on service provision, such as adequate staffing levels and “hard sell” tactics, may be required to uphold public confidence in the sector, argued the PSA. 

“The inherent tension between profit and patient best interest should be monitored,” it commented, adding: “Regulators will need to consider whether they need to be more interventionist in their approach where it is in the best interests of the public.”

This may be particularly relevant in the online pharmacy sector, which has accounted for a hugely disproportionate amount of the GPhC’s regulatory casework in recent years, said the PSA.  

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