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GPhC chief: We’re not too soft on the big multiples

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GPhC chief: We’re not too soft on the big multiples

By Neil Trainis

General Pharmaceutical Council chief executive Duncan Rudkin has insisted the regulator has not been soft on the large pharmacy chains and does not treat one sector differently to other parts of community pharmacy. 

Concerns that some big multiples are not being pulled into line resurfaced this month when the Pharmacists’ Defence Association claimed “light touch regulation of pharmacy owners” was endangering pharmacy.

Claiming there have been “repeated issues at multiple chains,” the PDA cited the example of a branch of LloydsPharmacy in Stroud, Gloucestershire, that in March this year was found not to have met all the standards having been issued with an improvement action plan in 2019, 2020 and 2021. 

A spokesperson for LloydsPharmacy told Independent Community Pharmacist it has "robust processes in place to provide resource and support to pharmacy teams that are found to need improvement" and implemented "a comprehensive action plan" to resolve concerns about the branch.

"Since the publication of the report, this pharmacy was revisited by the GPhC in May which found it met the standards and a routine inspection is expected in six months’ time. We have a strong relationship with the GPhC and support its process which maintains high standards across the community pharmacy sector," the spokesperson said. 

However, it was only after the branch had failed its inspection in March that the GPhC issued it with a statutory enforcement order, prompting the PDA to accuse the GPhC of being too slow to act.

In 2016, the GPhC said it would not investigate allegations reported in the Guardian that year that Boots put unacceptable pressure on its pharmacists to carry out medicines use reviews. 

When asked if the GPhC is too soft on the big pharmacy chains, Mr Rudkin told ICP: “You won’t be surprised to hear that I wouldn’t accept that. I don’t think that is the case.

“We’ve got a set of standards that work in all sorts of contexts for large and small businesses and all points in between. We have an inspection regime that is highly thought through, well developed with a lot of input from a huge range of different perspectives that helped us develop that as a process.” 

Mr Rudkin said the GPhC applies the same regulatory process “to independents, to small chains, medium-sized chains and large multiples” but conceded it needed to produce more “insight and intelligence reporting” that it can share more widely based on its findings “in different sub-sectors.”

He said that although some independents had excelled when it came to meeting standards, some had struggled “because of resources and issues like that around governance." 

“We know from our inspecting in the past, pre-Covid, that smaller independents have often featured in the higher echelons of our inspection findings, being really innovative, really creative and going above and beyond for the communities they are serving,” he said.

“So it’s not necessarily surprising that large businesses with a resource head office and an ability to provide resources, policies and so on (can) support their branches if they are less likely to feature in the enforcement action. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are better places to get care or better pharmacies, but there are differences between the different environments.

“There are some positives depending on your point of view and some challenges as well. It’s important we produce more insightful data we can share and that’s definitely a key part of our strategy.”

Mr Rudkin added: “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.”

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