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The new face of pharmacy

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The new face of pharmacy
Posted on: May 23 2011, 02:42 pm

The General Pharmaceutical Council outlines how the practice of pharmacy can be better regulated with the effective engagement of the public it serves

On 27th September 2010, the regulation of over 70,000 pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy premises in England, Scotland and Wales was transferred from The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) to the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). The GPhC is a new, independent regulator for the pharmacy professions with a legal remit under the Pharmacy Order 2010. The remit of the GPhC is to protect, promote and maintain the health, safety and wellbeing of patients, the public and of all those who use pharmaceutical services. This defined remit means that the new pharmacy regulator immediately has the responsibility of putting patients and the public at the heart of everything it does.

So why was the creation of the GPhC necessary? Weren't pharmacy professionals regulated before the GPhC came into existence last year? The answer is, of course they were, but the previous pharmacy regulator the RPSGB held a dual role as regulator and professional body. This duality was a key factor in leading to the creation of the GPhC and the resultant separation of regulation (registration, standards setting and fitness to practise) from professional leadership, in order to deliver regulation that worked on the public's behalf, independent of both government and the professions.

Given the change in approach, debates ensued across a variety of media about the nature of professional regulation. One point of view supported the definition of a professional: 'A professional does the right thing when no-one is looking,' arguing that professional regulation, no matter in which sphere, was itself an anomaly as the very definition of a professional deemed regulation unnecessary.

From the point of view of patients and the public, however, another viewpoint was articulated. This acknowledged the role of the professional but emphasised the role of the regulator: 'The regulator provides independent assurance that the public's trust is not misplaced.'

This viewpoint positions the regulator as a defender of professional standards and as a quasi guarantor of those standards for the public who receive them.

So, given the role of any regulator in relation to the public, and given the especial interests of patients and the public in healthcare regulation, effective patient and public engagement will require the GPhC to have regard for the interests of everyone who uses the services of its registrants, whether they be of the professionals pharmacists and pharmacy technicians or of the registered pharmacy premises from which they practise.

So how will the GPhC seek to ensure that a meaningful dialogue is established? Currently the GPhC is working to identify ways in which it can engage effectively, based on the key principle which acknowledges that effective engagement recognises the desire for people to participate in decisions that affect them, and that it provides a means for incorporating the public's values, interests, needs and desires into decisions that affect their lives through encouraging meaningful input into the process.

Of course, meaningful engagement is important if it is to help an organisation to achieve its goals. Through offering a clear definition of the issues, for the sharing of concerns and ideas and the inclusion of a public viewpoint into the process, it can importantly help ensure the delivery of a clear, understandable rationale for the final decision. Clarity and transparency must and does represent the ultimate objective of any modern independent healthcare regulator.

However, the GPhC is not unaware of the challenges that it will face in seeking patient engagement. Based on research, and on discussions with other regulators, one of the first challenges will be explaining the role of the regulator to patients and the public. For the GPhC, this will involve discussions about risk-based regulation and explanations that regulation does not involve the 'control' of individuals. In short, it will be about making our role make sense while simultaneously establishing mutual and diverging interests.

The overriding desire of the GPhC remains to develop effective public engagement and to understand the interests and concerns of those affected by the practice of pharmacy. This desire stems from the council's published values to:
Be focused on improvement;
Be responsive to change;
Develop policies that are inclusive;
Be independent and fair;
Demonstrate respect for others;
Ensure that regulation is proportionate.

These values and the prescribed accountability to, and engagement with, the public is already being exercised through the GPHC's direct accountability to the UK Parliament, through the publication of materials (the GPhC has a duty to publish annual reports on exercise of functions, statistical reports and its strategic plan) and the holding of meetings, including council meetings and fitness to practise hearings, in public. Equally, the consultation processes that lead to policy development, on standards for example, and on continuing professional development, are widely publicised with a view to gaining input from interested parties, both professional and lay.

The role of the GPhC in regulating pharmacy, which is very much a public facing profession, is to secure the confidence of the public. Effective engagement will be a vital building block on the road to success.

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