The GPhC Council has agreed to a change in its rules to give the pharmacy regulator express legal powers to continue to hold hearings and meetings remotely. It means its fitness to practise hearings and meetings can be held either remotely or in-person in the future.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the GPhC held some hearings remotely by videolink. Following positive feedback from those taking part in remote hearings, the GPhC consulted on a proposed permanent change to its rules so it could continue to hold hearings remotely in the future, when it is fair and appropriate to do so.
Council members “carefully” considered the feedback to the consultation, which received 483 responses, with the majority of those coming from pharmacy professionals. The proposal to continue remote hearings received wide support, with 78% of survey responses in agreement.
Many responses highlighted the effectiveness of remote hearings in terms of travelling time and costs incurred by registrants and the GPhC itself. Remote hearings were also seen as more efficient, enabling cases to be listed and therefore resolved quicker. Another advantage some highlighted was that remote hearings could be more flexible for participants in terms of scheduling dates and times to attend, and more accessible for people with disabilities and other accessibility needs.
The main disadvantage cited by those who were not supportive of continuing remote hearings was the risk of technological problems with remote hearings, including poor Wi-Fi connection. Responses also cited the loss of non-verbal communication, such as body language, compared to in-person hearings.
The Council agreed at the meeting to make the changes to the rules. The Council also committed to a review of our existing guidance on remote hearings in the light of the consultation analysis with a view to bringing a further report to Council to agree a Policy and Guidance document on Remote Hearings in September 2022.
GPhC Chief Executive Duncan Rudkin said:
“During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and restrictions we had to hold many meetings and hearings remotely by videolink. As such we were granted – along with other regulators – a temporary provision to enable us to do this and carry out our statutory role.
“We found people responded well to remote hearings. For example, registrants seemed more likely to attend a remote hearing than an in-person one. Feedback from those taking part was also mostly positive and supported the idea of remote hearings in the future. Our consultation has also highlighted potential benefits of remote hearings for people, including people sharing protected characteristics such as disability and pregnancy.
“Now Council has approved the rule change, the updated rules will go to the Privy Council for approval before being laid in the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments.”
The rules are expected to come into force on 1 October 2022. Until the rules and new policy and guidance come into force the GPhC will continue to only hold remote hearings with the consent of the person concerned and/or their legal representative.