The PIA - The Pharmacy Insurance Agency

Professional Regulation

Professional disciplinary hearings can lead to the termination of your professional registration and end your career.

In the vast majority of cases, the only involvement that pharmacy technicians will have with the regulator will be through their annual General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) registration and fee payment exercise. Their name will be entered onto a professional register of pharmacy technicians and they will receive a newsletter.

However, a small number will be unfortunate enough to be involved in a professional disciplinary episode, and this feature considers what that may entail.

The GPhC has a range of sanctions that it can apply in cases where it is concerned about the conduct of pharmacy technicians. Additionally, the GPhC does not just concern itself with workplace performance, but it is also interested in wider non work- related forms of behaviour that could bring the profession into disrepute.

For pharmacy technicians, professional disciplinary hearings are a risk that has only recently started to emerge. Some are being warned, others are having their names suspended from the register, and it is important to see what lessons can be learned.

Work-related issues

Typically, a registered pharmacy technician will find themselves facing a formal professional disciplinary process through a referral to the regulator by their employer when something untoward has occurred in the workplace. This may be due to a practice issue, e.g., a large number of dispensing errors, or more an employment behavioural issue, such as stealing medicines from the employer, falsifying expense claims or even ingesting medicines from the dispensary for purposes of self-treatment.

Non work-related issues

Pharmacy technicians are also facing the disciplinary committee because they have been prosecuted or cautioned by the police for non- pharmacy related matters. In one case, a pharmacy technician purchased items of clothing, switched the labels and returned worn items of clothing to secure a refund. In another, welfare benefits were falsely claimed. These matters may appear unconnected to the role of the pharmacy technician. However, professional registration places a higher requirement on the behaviour of registrants. Does the conduct or behaviour of a registrant:

  1. Present a risk to patients?
  2. Bring the profession into disrepute?
  3. Breach a principle of the profession?
  4. Call into question their integrity?

General observations

A study of the various disciplinary cases involving pharmacy technicians provides some stark observations. If an employer fails to refer a matter to the regulator and continuing poor performance leads to the harm of a patient, in any future investigation the employer's lack of referral will be criticised. This is the reason why employers are involved in the referral of pharmacy technicians to a significant extent, and this challenges the common belief amongst pharmacy employees that their employer will defend them in the event that something goes wrong.

Secondly, in a surprising number of cases, pharmacy technicians are not represented by defence counsel, and frequently they altogether fail to attend, which inevitably affects the outcome. Transcripts of such hearings demonstrate that the committee is usually unable to impose a lesser sanction because it lacks vital information that would enable it to do so.

Learning Points

  • Employers are likely to refer any work-related fitness to practice matter to the regulator. Pharmacy technicians should seek support as soon as poor performance appears.
  • Professional discipline can lead to the termination of your professional registration and end your career.
  • Non work-related conduct of a pharmacy technician which could bring the profession into disrepute will always be considered by the regulator. Avoiding situations where problems could emerge is the best way of preventing professional discipline.
  • Pharmacy professionals should always have access to their own professional defence counsel and should engage it if they are unfortunate enough to be the subject of a professional disciplinary episode. This could mean the difference between still being able to work as opposed to a suspension from the register. Their legal defence should be independent of their employer and of their employer's insurer.

The Pharmacy Insurance Agency Limited is registered in England and Wales under company number 2591975
It is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Register No 307063)