Brendon Jiang joined the English Pharmacy Board in June 2019. He works across multiple sectors: he is a GP pharmacist with the CLICK Federation, a group of eight GP practices in Somerset, as well as being a community pharmacist at Boots in Taunton and a community services pharmacist with Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust.
Jiang gained his pharmacy degree from the University of Otago, New Zealand, in 2003. After completing his preregistration year, he became pharmacy manager at CentralMed Pharmacy in Tauranga, New Zealand. He moved to the UK in 2006 to take up a post as services lead pharmacist with Alliance Boots. From there, he held several pharmacy management roles, which led, ultimately, to his current portfolio career.
Jiang spoke to The Pharmaceutical Journal about his decision to stand for election, his experience of board life so far, and what the Society is doing to advocate for the sector.
You’re a portfolio pharmacist. Was that a deliberate career choice?
I started in community pharmacy. Moving sectors was a bit of a risk, and keeping a hand in community pharmacy was a way of making sure that if things didn’t work out in primary care, then I could always go back. You very quickly lose touch when you move sectors, and this way I still get a feel for the problems that are happening on the ground in community pharmacy, such as stock shortages and workplace pressures.
You’ve been on the board for a few months. What prompted you to stand and how has it been?
I’ve always taken an interest in the development of pharmacy and this is a really exciting time for the sector. I wanted to try to influence some of the changes.
I thought it would be more daunting than it was. You’re there with a lot of big personalities; people who’ve been senior leaders in the profession for many years. But everyone was really welcoming in the first meeting. We all work professionally, and I wasn’t afraid to contribute where I felt I had valid points to offer.
Merely taking part in the election process is a great learning experience
My advice to anyone interested in standing is: put yourself forward. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain. The national boards need a diverse range of views from passionate pharmacists at different stages of their career. It might take a few attempts, but merely taking part in the election process is a great learning experience. Read the royal charter, the regulations, the information for candidates, and be prepared for the commitment that board membership entails.
Engagement with board elections is quite low: why do you think that is and how could it be addressed?
It is disappointing, but across all the professional bodies that sort of turnout is quite standard. We’ve done a lot of talking about trying to raise member engagement. What the Society is trying to do better is listen to members and engage more. It’s certainly one of my priorities to try to increase engagement. We’re doing a member survey and hopefully one of the follow-on effects from that will be a greater engagement from the electorate.
Are there any sectors you’d like to see more of on the pharmacy boards?
Absolutely. There are the burgeoning sectors of primary care and urgent care. We don’t have any representation from pharmacists working in prisons or drug user services. There’s currently no sitting hospital pharmacist on the board.
At my first board meeting we discussed looking at going back to sectoral votes, and there are arguments for and against that. Having sectoral places would mean that there would be a representative from the hospital sector – provided that someone were to put themselves forward, that is.
It’s certainly one of my priorities to try to increase engagement
At the moment, without having sectoral places we’ve got a lot more community pharmacists represented. But we do have industrial pharmacist and hospital pharmacist representation through the expert advisory groups. The chairs of the industrial pharmacists’ forum and the hospital expert advisory group sit in the board meetings and give a perspective from those sectors.
We try to encourage diversity, but to change the governance structures is quite tricky.
You’ve said you support two consecutive fixed board terms, followed by a mandatory break. Why?
At the moment, there is no restriction on the number of terms that board members can sit. We’ve got some board members who have been there since the RPS was founded. In any organisation, it’s really important to bring in new voices and have a variety of opinions. I feel that with the current governance arrangement, that’s stifled.
My idea around fixed consecutive terms is mimicking what some of the other Royal Colleges have. I think it strikes a good balance because it’s really important not to have a gross turnover of your board, but to retain some of that experience.
In your election campaign, you said the RPS ‘must understand why members leave’: what have you heard from non-members and what can the board do to address that?
That’s a whole part of our workplan, to increase the membership. When I was out on the election trail, I spoke to a lot of pharmacists. Some pharmacists felt that the RPS membership was an expense that, really, all they were seeing from it was a copy of The Pharmaceutical Journal and Pharmaceutical Press’s Medicines, Ethics and Practice. I don’t think they saw the vast volume of work that the RPS does. That’s what really struck me as a new board member: the number of campaigns and policies that the RPS gets involved in.
It’s a difficult line to tread: trying to work strategically with a view to the longer term, and also to react to issues that come up. And issues come up all the time: earlier this year there was the proposal for pharmacy degree apprenticeships, which surprised everyone. Since then, the RPS has done a great job in clarifying that that was the first stage of a long consultation. And now, the Society has a seat at the table to try to formulate and drive the direction in which that goes: to make sure that if it were to become a reality, that’s for the benefit of pharmacy as a whole.
People forget that the RPS is constantly advocating and lobbying
The RPS has been instrumental in the decriminalisation of dispensing errors, access to summary care records, pharmacist independent prescribers being able to act as designated prescribing practitioners, Brexit preparations, and introducing new roles for pharmacists in general practice, care homes and urgent care.
I think it’s a lot of these little things, behind the scenes, that members don’t necessarily see. A lot of people forget that the RPS is constantly advocating and lobbying.
Is the board trying to ensure members are aware of how much work the RPS does?
It came up at the first board meeting I attended, and is on the agenda for the next. It’s also something we speak about a lot as a board, when we’re not meeting formally. Certainly, for the profession to be strong and vibrant in the future, and for us to deliver our mission of putting pharmacy at the forefront of healthcare, you need a strong Society. Part of that is selling that vision to pharmacists.
One of the roles of the RPS is to try to highlight and disseminate examples of great practice. I’d like to say to pharmacists out there: if they’re doing something that is novel, that is evidence-based and great for patients, then please get in touch with us because we’d love to make a case study of it and share it. We’re trying to build a database of evidence that we can use to prove the worth of pharmacy to the Department of Health and Social Care and other organisations. Outcome evidence that supports pharmacy services can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What message would you give to pharmacists who are not RPS members?
Being a member of the RPS gives you access to a great number of resources: the MEP; the guides, which are online; you can access continuing professional development support; and members are also able to attend the RPS annual conference for free — this alone represents a £249 saving.
But it’s not just about what the RPS can do for you, but what you can do for the RPS. Membership of the Society will confirm your dedication: it shows how dedicated you are as a professional by being involved in the professional leadership body.