There has been widespread media coverage about the thousands of healthcare professionals who have altruistically returned to work in order to assist during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this blog, I explain the temporary register established by the General Pharmaceutical Council (“GPhC”) to facilitate that process in respect of the pharmacists and pharmacy technicians which it regulates and some of the considerations for those minded to return to pharmacy.
What is the GPhC Temporary Register?
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the GPhC has created a temporary register for all former GPhC registrants who have either taken voluntary removal, or have been removed by the GPhC for non-renewal of their registration, within the past three years. The only former registrants excluded are those who left the register for fitness to practise related reasons.
All those added to the temporary register are able to resume work in the profession, using protected titles, without going through the usual process of applying to the GPhC for registration. In addition, no GPhC fees will be charged in relation to the temporary register (whereas registrants normally pay entry and renewal fees of £121 – £257 per annum). Pharmacy professionals on the temporary register are also excused from carrying out and recording revalidation activities.
How do I join the Temporary Register?
You don’t! Rather than de-registered individuals needing to specifically contact the GPhC to join the temporary register, the GPhC has automatically added the names of all eligible persons to the temporary register. Inclusion on the temporary register does not impose any obligation to practise, so there is no need to be alarmed if your name is included on the temporary register and you wish to remain de-registered. People nevertheless wishing to have their names removed from the temporary register can complete an opt-out form at https://surveys.pharmacyregulation.org/s/temporary-register-opt-out/.
How will professionals on the Temporary Register be regulated by the GPhC?
People on the temporary register who return to the profession must comply with the GPhC’s Standards for Pharmacy Professionals.
In relation to fitness to practise, the GPhC has confirmed that, if a concern is raised about a registrant on the temporary register, that person will be removed from the temporary register and the GPhC will not follow the usual fitness to practise process of investigating an allegation or giving the registrant any opportunity to respond.
The only requirement will be for the fitness to practise concern to suggest to the GPhC that removal is necessary to protect the public, is otherwise in the public interest or is in the interests of the pharmacy professional. This is a low bar.
Are there any downsides to the Temporary Register?
In fitness to practise law, we often talk about the case of Bolton v The Law Society . In this case, Sir Thomas Bingham said “The reputation of the profession is more important than the fortunes of any individual member. Membership of a profession brings many benefits, but that is a part of the price”. In other words, being a respected GPhC registered professional is a privilege, but the price is the obligation to uphold the very high standards expected of regulated professionals. Via the temporary register, de-registered individuals are invited to assume the burden of practising as a regulated professional, but are not getting the benefit of substantive GPhC registration, including the right for any allegation against them to be properly investigated.
If a pharmacy professional on the temporary register is removed from that register because someone submits a concern about them to the GPhC, will that concern be taken into account when or if the individual comes to apply to renew their substantive GPhC registration? This kind of issue already arises in a small number of cases each year, for example when graduating students who have been involved in incidents at University or whilst on placement come to apply for GPhC registration. In relation to the temporary register, this seems to be a more real risk because the GPhC has already reported “a significant rise in the number of concerns being received [during the pandemic], with over one hundred more than usual in March”.
It is important, before deciding whether to practise via the temporary register, to fully consider the best option for your individual circumstances (including your health, skills and knowledge) and whether you can confidently meet the GPhC’s Standards. As the GPhC itself has emphasised “There will be many roles within pharmacy and the wider health service which would not require registration but where your skills and experience could be used”.
Do I need insurance?
Yes, pharmacy professionals on the temporary register must have an appropriate indemnity arrangement in place.
Those returning to work for NHS bodies will ordinarily be covered under the NHS Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts in respect of patient claims. Those returning to work for private contractors need to check the arrangement in place with their individual employer.
Cover in respect of non-claims issues, such as fitness to practise or registration matters, is not provided under the NHS scheme mentioned, or under most private clinical liability policies.
For how long will the Temporary Register exist?
The temporary register will remain in place until such time as the Secretary of State for Health & Social Care advises the GPhC that a state of emergency no longer exists. Once the state of emergency has resolved, individuals on the temporary register will be de-registered.