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GPhC seeking powers to carry out covert investigations

By News team

Powers to perform directed surveillance and use covert human intelligence sources (see Panel) are being sought by the General Pharmaceutical Council, after the council approved the move at its latest meeting (11 April 2013).

The Office of Surveillance Commissioners recommended that the GPhC seek these powers in a report published in January. The GPhC is already listed as an organisation that is entitled to covert surveillance powers on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). However, it is not currently authorised to use these powers. That authorisation will require a legislative change, which will have to be approved by the Government.

Duncan Rudkin, chief executive of the GPhC, told PJ Online that there are stringent rules in place to ensure that, if granted, the powers would only be used in the most serious of circumstances. This would include cases of criminal behaviour where it may be difficult to otherwise obtain evidence.

He said he cannot rule out the possibility that information gathered covertly will be used against individuals in fitness to practice cases.

Use of the powers would require authorisation at the highest level and personal go-ahead from Mr Rudkin. Externally, the GPhC would be held to account by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners, who would inspect and oversee the GPhC’s use of covert surveillance.

"I hope pharmacists will be supportive of us having these powers so that seriously bad practice can be rooted out," Mr Rudkin said.

The GPhC is eligible for the powers because it is a regulator for pharmacy premises, not just professionals, a spokeswoman for the GPhC explained. Bodies such as the Care Quality Commission, which regulates hospitals, already hold these powers as does the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

Other healthcare professional regulators, such as the General Medical Council, do not currently possess the powers because they do not regulate premises. But Mr Rudkin said he would not be surprised if the GMC, Nursing and Midwifery Council and General Dental Council were prompted to seek these powers following the GPhC’s decision.

Directed surveillance and covert human intelligence

Directed surveillance is defined as observation of a person or persons for the purposes of a specific investigation, the GPhC says. A covert human intelligence source is a person —such as a GPhC inspector — who maintains a personal or other relationship for the purpose of covertly obtaining or disclosing information.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2013.11120050

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