Proposals to create a health sector super-regulator could dilute pharmacy expertise within the regulatory regime and shift focus from key aspects of pharmacy practice, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) says.

The comments are taken from the NPA’s response to the Department of Health’s consultation on Promoting Professionalism, Reforming Regulation, which was submitted this week.

The NPA is also concerned that an amalgamated regulator could become London-centric, to the detriment of services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which currently has its own regulator.

Nitin Sodha, chair of the NPA’s policy and  practice committee, said: “As the third largest healthcare profession, pharmacy requires a bespoke regulator, in line with the medical and nursing professions.

 “The NPA is also concerned that large scale regulatory bodies may be less accessible to patients and the wider public and may not lend themselves to greater responsiveness.”

The Department of Health consultation considers proposals that could see the number of UK health regulators reduced from nine to three or four.

If adopted, the proposals would see the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI) scrapped.

The consultation document argues that regulators with fewer than 100,000 members are less efficient. The GPhC and PSNI have 89,377 and 2,852 members, respectively.

In its response, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) called for changes to its legal framework to improve its ability to regulate effectively, and to give the flexibility it needs to be able to respond effectively to external changes.  

GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin said: “We strongly support the objectives this consultation is seeking to achieve, including its focus on professionalism. We agree the focus of the regulators should be on promoting and supporting professionalism because it enhances patient safety and quality of care. 

“We have given a constructive response to this consultation which sets out our vision for the future of pharmacy regulation. In it we discuss how reforms to the legal framework for the regulators could improve protection and assurance for patients and the public, and support the professionalism of all health professionals.

“Most of the coverage of the consultation in the pharmacy media has concentrated on the question of whether there should be fewer regulatory bodies and, if so, how a smaller number should be configured. The GPhC keeps an open mind about this issue. We need to probe the evidence base for change and explore whether any particular proposals would lead to better outcomes for patients and the public, which is the important thing. We also highlight the value of professional input into these debates.

“This consultation focuses on reforms to regulation of health professionals, which we agree is needed. In our response we also say there should also be a debate about our powers to regulate registered pharmacies.  As the regulator of both pharmacy professionals and registered pharmacies, we believe the environments in which health professionals work are critical to the context for delivering professional, safe and effective care. Strengthening the regulation of both the professionals and the places in which they work is therefore a critical part of assuring and improving health and social care.

“We are committed to playing an active part in all future discussions following the consultation. Ahead of legislative change, we will also continue to further improve how we regulate within our existing legal framework, doing what we can to support and improve the delivery of safe, effective care and uphold trust in pharmacy.”

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