A recent High Court care home case could be a portent for what some pharmacies will go through.

With very little fanfare, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) received new legal powers on May 24. The GPhC is now running a consultation until August 9 on new premises standards to accompany its new powers, one of which involves the publication of pharmacy inspection reports.

Healthcare regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has been publishing reports into care homes for some time and a recent High Court decision involving a care home report sheds light on what pharmacy owners can expect when the GPhC starts publishing inspection reports.

The CQC had carried out a comprehensive inspection of Ashworth Grange care home in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, and found breaches of various regulations. It offered the care home the opportunity to comment on its report, and the care home challenged some of the findings. This is a process similar to the one the GPhC is proposing in a consultation paper.

The GPhC proposes:

  • a pharmacy would have the opportunity to comment on the factual accuracy of a report before it is published
  • if the pharmacy challenges the accuracy of the report, there will be a review process involving an inspection team manager who is independent of the region in which the pharmacy is located
  • the pharmacy owner will be notified of the outcome before publication

In the Ashworth Grange case, the CQC made some changes and informed the owner that the report would be published. There was no right of appeal against the decision to publish. The care home owner applied to the High Court for an immediate injunction to prevent publication of the report, pending a judicial review hearing.

The owner of Ashworth Grange alleged that the CQC inspection was unfairly critical, and that the CQC had not responded to some of the points it had raised. If the report was published, it argued, it would be damaging to the reputation and commercial viability of the home.

Refusing an injunction, the High Court judge said the CQC had exercised its statutory functions appropriately in making legitimate factual findings and exercising its professional judgement. The judge held that the CQC had given proper consideration to the matters raised by the care home owner, and the CQC was not required to draft its report in a particular way, setting out the owner’s criticisms, and then giving reasons for accepting or not accepting them.

I foresee that there will be occasions in future when pharmacy owners dispute the findings of an unfavourable GPhC inspection report, but will be unable prevent publication despite the reputational and commercial damage it may cause.