A Professional Conduct Committee considers complaints, concerns or convictions referred by the Council. The Council can make enquiries into complaints or concerns but only a PCC has the statutory powers to investigate questions about a pharmacist’s conduct or safety of practice. Whilst the Council may sometimes reach a decision based on its enquiries, in other situations there may not be enough information to resolve the complaint, the information is not forthcoming, or the concern warrants investigation.
The Council appoints the PCC, but it is independent of Council, sets its own procedures but is bound by the principles of natural justice to ensure a fair and transparent process, free from any bias. This means that the pharmacist under investigation has ready access to the evidence considered by the Committee and must have reasonable opportunities to make submissions, including in person or through a representative. The PCC must also keep the pharmacist, the Council, and where applicable, the complainant, informed of the progress of the investigation.
The Council appoints two pharmacists and one lay member to the PCC from a pool of trained PCC members. When considered appropriate, the Council may appoint one of its members (pharmacist or lay) to the PCC. Where this happens, the Council member excuses themselves from any Council consideration of the matter.
The PCC’s powers include appointing legal advisors and investigators, requiring statutory declarations, requiring persons to provide relevant information not otherwise available, and receiving any evidence needed to investigate the complaint, including the pharmacist under investigation, employer, those practising in association with the pharmacist, the complainant and a clinical expert.
After completing the investigation, the PCC must promptly reach a decision or make one or more recommendations to Council. The investigation might reveal evidence that exonerates the pharmacist, mitigates the initial concern, or establishes aggravating factors. The PCC may then conclude that the Council should take no further action on the matter.
The PCC may have concerns about the pharmacist’s competence or health, prompting a recommendation to Council to review the pharmacist’s competence, scope of practice or fitness to practise. If the PCC has concerns about a pharmacist’s conduct, that does not warrant laying a charge, the PCC may recommend counselling. If the recommendation is accepted, the Council approves an experienced pharmacist (and sometimes a counselling psychologist) to counsel the pharmacist and ensure future understanding and application of relevant professional standards. If the PCC identifies possible criminal action, it may recommend that the Council refers the matter to the police.
Only the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal can discipline a pharmacist. When the evidence identifies possible serious misconduct, the PCC may conclude that it has grounds to bring a charge against the pharmacist to the Tribunal. If the matter is referred to the Tribunal, PCC-appointed lawyers will prosecute the charge. For further information on the Tribunal, click here.
To access the relevant sections of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003, click here.