Paul Bennett: ‘Good governance is essential in any organisation’

Paul Bennett, chief executive of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, explains the importance of, and rationale behind, proposed changes to the way the Society functions.

Paul Bennett

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has published proposed changes to how it is governed, including an update to the Conduct Scheme for Members
 and a reform of both the Science and Research and Faculty and Education boards. Paul Bennett, chief executive of the RPS, spoke to The Pharmaceutical Journal  about why these changes were made, and why it matters to members.

The Society has proposed some significant governance changes: can you summarise these?

There are three core elements to the review that has been undertaken and we’ve done this in two phases. The first phase — an administrative review — was concluded more than 12 months ago. This gave us the opportunity to look very carefully at regulations and the governance handbook that we had in place at the time, and some of the associated schedules to the regulations. We did a tidy-up of the regulations, because the governance arrangements that were in place at the time had come about as an evolution from the former Royal Pharmaceutial Society of Great Britain. This gave us an opportunity, with the Assembly’s blessing, to do an administrative tidy.

We have recently concluded phase two, as of November 2019. It addressed more of the fundamental aspects, but still within the terms of our Royal Charter. Anything more significant, that might require a charter change, would mean that we would, quite rightly, need to consult with our membership through a special general meeting.

In parallel to that, we also took the opportunity to look at the Conduct Scheme for Members.

Charter changes need two-thirds’ approval from the membership, whereas these lesser changes simply require members to be given the opportunity to share their views: is that right?

We had unanimous approval from the Assembly for the package of regulatory changes that we presented in November 2019

That’s right. We must ‘gazette’, as it’s termed, the proposed regulatory changes — which is what we have done, so members have an opportunity to look at what is proposed and comment. They’ve been summarised online and referenced in The Pharmaceutical Journal

. We had unanimous approval from the Assembly for the package of regulatory changes that we presented in November 2019.

I suppose I should say that regulation is quite a dry subject. Engaging with members on regulatory matters is not the most exciting thing we do, but it is necessary: good governance is essential in any organisation. 

Governance can be both enabling and restricting, but it is a requirement for us to have good governance in place; hence the drive to undertake the review. 

There is a proposal to limit the number of consecutive terms that elected members can serve: does this include both members of the Assembly and the national pharmacy boards?

This point came up at the last annual general meeting, in a motion put forward by one of our members — it was around whether there should be term limits for elected members to the national boards. That is an item that the Assembly felt was important to gather member views on, and so we intend to do exactly that.

There are some members who express a very strongly held opinion that terms should be limited, and there are others that would passionately argue that the election process itself is the democratic manner by which terms are limited. If somebody is, perhaps, not favoured by the membership through election, they won’t be elected to the board in the first place. That is a mechanism of term limiting.

We’re going to the membership to ask their views, but that’s not part of the gazetting process.

What gazetted changes to regulations would you like to highlight to members?

We took a decision to reform the Faculty and Education Board, which has now become the Education and Standards Committee. That is important because the committee will form a particular function as we move into the space typically occupied by Royal Colleges, which is around the provision of assessment and credentialing.

We’re placing great emphasis on science and research

As our members will know, we are moving forward with proposals on foundation training, but also leading into advanced practice and consultancy. So, the trajectory for the organisation is very much in the space of education and professional development, and it’s appropriate that we have a committee that supports that.

The other change was around the Science and Research Board, which has become the Science and Research Committee. We’re placing great emphasis on science and research, and I’m delighted by the number of people who’ve expressed an interest in joining the committee. That helps our chief scientific officer, Gino Martini, and his team to make sure that the Society is well-informed around advances in pharmaceutical science. Science underpins practice, so it’s really important that, through the support of an expert committee like this, we are able to inform policy creation. The work of the Science and Research Committee, and the Science and Research team at the Society, will support the Assembly and national pharmacy boards who are responsible for determining our policy positions.

What’s the significance of this change: does a committee have more power than a board?

There may have been some confusion by our nomenclature in the past. The Faculty and Education Board and the Science and Research Board — as they were — were formed at the behest of the Assembly and were accountable to the Assembly, but they did not have a role with regards to the governance of the organisation. That rests very much with the Assembly itself and with the three national pharmacy boards. I think there was potentially some confusion around all of these boards.

While it’s a simple change to rename them, their terms of reference have also changed. These are very much more akin to expert advisory groups, but they remain accountable to the Assembly and are independently chaired.

What are the proposed changes to the Conduct Scheme for Members and what prompted them?

We have to, as a membership organisation, have a conduct scheme that is fit for purpose

The Conduct Scheme for Members is something that is enacted very rarely, but it arises should there be a complaint with regard to the practice or conduct of a member. A complaint can be brought by anyone.

We have to, as a membership organisation, have a conduct scheme that is fit for purpose. While we had a detailed conduct scheme in place, there were some anomalies in it, and we’ve had to use the it on a few occasions during the past two years. We’ve taken some learnings from that and there was a review of how the conduct scheme operated in practice. As a result, we’ve made several proposals to enhance the scheme. They were put to Assembly and were unanimously agreed.

For example, one of the anomalies that was present in the old scheme was that there was a difference of approach for an [unelected] Member or Fellow compared to an elected Member or Fellow: perhaps one who held office within the Society. We’ve amalgamated those two schemes into one single scheme so it’s simpler and easier to understand.

The other anomaly was around the requirement to initiate the process through the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). That applied even if the person being referred was not on the GPhC register. We have removed that requirement — sensibly so, in my view — so that we are no longer obligated to initiate the conduct scheme through a referral to the GPhC: the process is now completely autonomous.

I think the other main aspect is around the ability to determine whether or not, in our opinion, a complaint received is vexatious. Under the old scheme, every complaint had to go through the process — that’s resource-sapping. It’s members’ money that is being used on operating our conduct scheme, so we needed to introduce a mechanism by which we could determine whether or not we felt the complaint had justification, or whether there was any vexatious nature to it.

If it is determined that there is a vexatious nature to it, we now have the ability not to progress the complaint. 

Is there anything else in the changes that you’d like to highlight to members?

The Assembly is notified if, under the gazetting exercise, any substantive comments are received from members, or if there’s any view against the proposal that the Assembly is making. Otherwise the changes simply come into effect on 1 March 2019.

How significant are the changes and how will they impact members?

The changes are important to members because they are around good conduct of the Society. As a member-led organisation, it is important that we spend our energy, efforts and resources on supporting members and advancing the profession of pharmacy: not on internal navel-gazing. There is always a risk that focus on governance is more about the latter than the former, but I’m optimistic that we’ve done sufficient tidying of governance arrangements to give us a stable platform from which we can focus 100% of our efforts on doing exactly what our members rightfully expect of us: focusing on the profession, our members and their needs.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, February 2020, Vol 304, No 7934;304(7934):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20207672

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