Qualified Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians must be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council in order to work as Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians in the UK.
In order to register with the GPhC, every Pharmacy Professional must show that they are fit to practise. In order to carry out this assessment, when considering registration, the GPhC will ask questions about the registrant's character, including asking whether he/she has any convictions or cautions and whether they are registered with other regulatory bodies. Pharmacy Professionals will also be asked to provide information to the GPhC about their health.
A registrant's fitness to practise may be called into question if he/she is not in good health. This may lead to the GPhC refusing their registration or with an investigation being carried out into the Pharmacy Professional's fitness to practise if information about his/her ill health is obtained when he/she is already registered.
The GPhC defines good health as "the absence of evidence that a person has a physical or mental condition (s) that may impair their fitness to practise as a pharmacist or a pharmacy technician or may lead to behaviour inconsistent with the standards of conduct published by the GPhC, or the exercise of the pharmacy profession".
Declaring a health matter
Pharmacy Professionals are expected to inform the GPhC if they are suffering from a health condition which impairs or which may impair their fitness to practise as a Pharmacist. The GPhC defines this as a condition that affects the registrant's ability to work safely or a condition which may pose a risk to patient safety or a condition which may prevent the Pharmacy Professional from carrying out any of his/her regular pharmaceutical duties.
The GPhC does state that there is no requirement for a registrant to disclose a physical condition that renders him/her unfit to work for a limited period of time or a condition that is under control and for which he/she is receiving appropriate treatment.
This poses a dilemma for some Pharmacy Professionals who may, for example, be suffering from depression which may lead him/her to behave in a way that is incompatible with his/her role as a Pharmacist or Pharmacy Technician but which is being treated by his/her GP and is under control with medication. Should a registrant in this position disclose his/her depression to the GPhC?
The GPhC states that if the Pharmacy Professional is any doubt as to whether their health condition ought to be disclosed, they should declare it.
Implications of Disclosure
Pharmacy Professionals are often reluctant to disclose a health condition to the GPhC fearing that an investigation into their fitness to practise by the GPhC may follow. This may, in turn, lead to their registration with the GPhC being suspended or conditions being imposed on their registration and so the fear of self-reporting may well be justified.
Recently, the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence recommended that the GPhC introduce a policy requiring medical information to be obtained in cases brought to the attention of the GPhC which involve the use of alcohol or drugs.
The GPhC state that obtaining medical information about the Pharmacy Professional in question will allow them to determine whether any underlying health issues exist which may impair the registrant's fitness to practise.
As a matter of course in such cases, the Pharmacy Professional is asked to consent to the release of his/her medical records and to sign a form consenting to a medical examination by a GPhC medical assessor.
What happens if the Pharmacy Professional signs the consent form?
If the Pharmacy Professional signs the consent form, the GPhC will ask one of their medical assessors to contact the registrant to make suitable arrangements for the medical examination to be carried out.
The GPhC will contact the registrant's GP and will obtain copies of their medical records. This can cause a problem for Pharmacy Professionals as, if he/she has suffered any illnesses in the past which are unrelated to the incident which gave rise to the request for disclosure but which he/she has not disclosed to the GPhC, the GPhC can incorporate the non-disclosure into the allegations against the Pharmacy Professional.
If the consent forms are signed, the GPhC can also liaise with the Pharmacy Professional's doctor and with the medical assessor who carries out the medical examination.
If the matter is referred to a Fitness to Practise Committee, they will also be able to see copies of the Pharmacy Professional's medical records and the medical assessor's report.
What happens if the Pharmacy Professional agrees to a medical examination?
The medical assessor will arrange a mutually convenient time to examine the Pharmacy Professional and will prepare a report on their health afterwards. Alcohol and drug testing may also be carried out by the medical assessor.
Once the report has been prepared, it will be sent to the GPhC who may decide to take no further action or the matter may be referred to one of the Fitness to Practise Committees, depending on what the report says about the Pharmacy Professional's health.
What happens if the Pharmacy Professional does not agree to a medical examination?
If a Pharmacy Professional is asked to consent to a medical examination, he/she does have the right to refuse to do so. However, if he/she does not agree to this course of action, the GPhC can decide to refer the case to a Fitness to Practise Committee who may consider that a refusal to be medically examined is strong evidence that the registrant is not fit to practise and a sanction may be imposed upon his/her registration on that basis.
Whilst the Pharmacy Professional awaits a Fitness to Practise Committee in these circumstances, the GPhC can also apply for an Interim Order of either conditions on the Pharmacy Professional's registration or a suspension which would preclude the Pharmacy Professional's ability to work as a Pharmacist or as a Pharmacy Technician, pending the final outcome.
What to do
If you are a Pharmacist or a Pharmacy Technician who has been asked by the GPhC to consent to the release of medical records and to agree to attend a medical examination, do not ignore the correspondence as it will not go away. Seek legal advice immediately.
In certain circumstances, it may be appropriate to allow your legal representative to obtain your medical records in order to advise you on disclosure of them to the GPhC.
The Pharmacy Professional may not want to disclose all of his/her GP records to the GPhC for reasons completely unrelated to any investigation by the GPhC. It may be that the GP records contain highly sensitive and confidential information which is entirely irrelevant to the matters being considered by the GPhC. In these circumstances, your legal advisor can review the records with a trained eye and explain to the GPhC why the Pharmacy Professional is unwilling to disclose all of his/her records to the GPhC.