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Fitness to practise
The Pharmaceutical Society NI (the organisation) describe fitness to practise as a pharmacist’s suitability to be on the register without restrictions. This means: maintaining appropriate standards of proficiency ensuring they are of good health and good character, and are adhering to principles of good practice set out in the standards, guidance and advice issued by the Pharmaceutical Society NI.
Reasons which may impair a pharmacist’s fitness to practise include ill-health, lack of the ability to competently practise as a pharmacist or findings of misconduct including convictions of a criminal offence.
What is the purpose of Fitness to Practise proceedings?
In July 2014 the Professional Standards Authority (the PSA) produced the following statement, outlining the purpose of the regulators’
Fitness to Practise (FtP) process:
“The purpose of the regulators’ fitness to practise processes
To help protect the public and maintain public trust in the health and care professions, the regulators we oversee use a ‘fitness to practice process’ to enforce professional standards. Although each regulator has their own different process, they all share the same purpose which is to protect the public and maintain public trust in the professions they regulate.”
The full statement can be found here: PSA statement of July 2014
What will the Pharmaceutical Society NI investigate?
The professional and personal conduct of the pharmacist will be judged against the Pharmaceutical Society NI’s Code of Ethics. A breach of the principles may bring the pharmacist’s fitness to practise into question and may lead to referral to the organisation’s disciplinary process.Impairment to fitness to practise
Impairment of fitness to practise can be demonstrated in a number of ways. The Pharmacy (1976 Order) (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) 2012 (the Order) states that a person’s fitness to practise is to be regarded as impaired only by reason of the following categories:
- deficient professional performance (which includes competence);
- adverse physical or mental health which impairs their ability to practise safely and to effectively or which otherwise impairs their ability to carry out the duties of a registered person in a safe and effective manner;
- a conviction in the British Islands for a criminal offence;
- a conviction elsewhere than in the British Islands for an offence which, if committed in Northern Ireland, would constitute a criminal offence;
- having agreed to pay a penalty under section 109A of the Social Security Administration (Northern Ireland) Order 1992 (b) (penalty as an alternative to prosecution);
- a police caution in the British Islands;
- having agreed to be bound over to keep the peace by a Magistrates’ Court in Northern Ireland;
- a determination made by a regulatory body in the United Kingdom responsible under any statutory provision for the regulation of a health or social care profession to the effect that a person’s fitness to practise as a member of a profession regulated by that body is impaired, or a determination by a regulatory body elsewhere to the same effect;
- the Independent Safeguarding Authority including the person in a barred list (within the meaning of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (a) or the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups (Northern Ireland) Order 2007 (b); or the Scottish Ministers including the person in the children’s list or the adults’ list (within the meaning of the Protection of the Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 (c).
The Order states that a demonstration towards a patient, customer or prospective patient/ customer, by a registered person of attitudes or behaviour from which that person can reasonably expect to be protected may be treated as misconduct. A person’s fitness to practise may be regarded as impaired because of matters arising outside Northern Ireland and at any time.Fitness to practise criteria
The Fitness to Practise Criteria provide that the Statutory Committee, when considering evidence about the conduct or behaviour of the registered person which may cast doubt on their fitness to practise, must consider whether the conduct or behaviour:
- presents an actual or potential risk to patients or the public;
- has brought, or might bring, the profession of pharmacy into dispute;
- has breached one of the fundamental principles of the profession of pharmacy as defined in the standards; or
- shows that the integrity of the registered person can no longer be relied upon.
In relation to evidence about the registered person’s physical or mental health, that might cast doubt on their fitness to practise, the Statutory Committee must have regard to whether or not the evidence shows actual or potential:
- self harm; or
- harm to patients or to the public.
Determining whether the facts in any case amount to a category of impairment (i.e. misconduct) is a question of judgement for the Statutory Committee and as such the Committee does not need to apply the standard of proof.
What the Pharmaceutical Society NI does not deal with.
If a complaint is not related to the impairment of a pharmacists’ fitness to practise the Pharmaceutical Society NI will not investigate it.
Complaints relating to the following issues are not handled by the Pharmaceutical Society:
- Claims for compensation;
- Complaints regarding other health professionals;
- Employment issues e.g. hours of work, contracts;
- Non-medical products e.g. faulty hairsprays etc;
- Contractual issues e.g. hours of opening, charges for private prescriptions;
- Customer service issues (such as, impolite pharmacy staff).
Declaring a fitness to practise issue
Pharmacists are required to make self declarations to the Pharmaceutical Society NI with regard their fitness to practise. This must be done within 7 days of any change in their fitness to practise during the registration year.Fitness to Practise Key Performance Indicators
The following table shows the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) used by the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland in relation to Fitness to Practise investigations:
Fitness to Practise Key Performance Indicators
Every investigation differs and the table above shows our target, less complicated cases can be progressed more quickly, investigations which involve other agencies, such as the police may take longer
In situations where there is an immediate risk to public safety we can instigate an “Interim Order” hearing which can impose conditions or suspend a registrant, pending a full investigation.
Referral of an allegation to fitness to practise committee
Where an allegation is made to the Pharmaceutical Society NI against a registered person that their fitness to practise is impaired or the organisation has information that calls into question a registered person’s fitness to practise, (even though no allegation has been made to the organisation), the Registrar must refer the matter to the Scrutiny Committee.
There are exceptions to the above provision and the Register must not refer an allegation:
- if an allegation fails to met the threshold criteria, it should not be referred;
- where more than 5 years have lapsed since the most recent events referred to in the allegation unless the Registrar considers that it is necessary for the protection of the public, or otherwise in the public interest, for the allegation to be referred;
- where the informant is anonymous and the allegation is not capable of verification from an independent source; or
- the informant does not participate in the consideration of the allegation and the allegation is not capable of verification from an independent source.
The Registrar can carry out investigation of the allegation to assist its consideration. Investigations may include requesting the Pharmacy Inspector to undertake further enquiries; requesting the informant to provide a written statement or a statutory declaration; instructing solicitors; or in relation to a health allegation, requiring the registered person to agree to be medically examined by a medical practitioner nominated by the Pharmaceutical Society NI.
Note: ongoing cases may have been subject to previous threshold criteria –
The Council of the Pharmaceutical Society NI, published revised Indicative Sanctions Guidance in January 2019. This guidance came into effect on 27 March 2019. All Fitness to Practise cases heard by the Statutory Committee on the 27 March 2019 and after will use the revised Indicative Sanctions Guidance.
For clinicians acting as expert or professional witnesses, the Pharmaceutical Society NI supports and adopts the guidance produced by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (2019): Acting as an expert or professional witness – Guidance for healthcare professionals.
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