Robbie Turner joined the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in January 2017 as director for England. Prior to joining the RPS he was chief executive of Community Pharmacy West Yorkshire. In July 2018, Turner took up the role of director for pharmacy and member experience, a new position created as part of the Society’s executive restructure.
Two months into his new role, Turner spoke to The Pharmaceutical Journal about working on behalf of members and the Society’s vision for the future.
Your new role sounds like a big one. Can you summarise it?
I’m responsible for all of the areas of the RPS where our members have contact with us and where we have influence on our members — with the exclusion of education, because that is a significant priority for the future and so is under a separate directorship under Gail Fleming.
My directorate has the policy and engagement teams, who work on behalf of the country boards delivering policy and advocacy work. We also have the marketing and communication functions, events, professional standards and professional support. We can now be a bit more joined-up than we have been before. Previously, lots of good work has gone on, but the joining-up of that across the organisation hasn’t been as good as it could have been. This executive reorganisation is a response to that.
Why did the RPS decide to create the role, and what attracted you to it?
The new role is very much around coordination and leveraging what we already do. It’s not about doing lots of new stuff; it’s about making sure that the work we already do, in the teams that are already here, is providing what our members need now and in the future.
It’s a diverse role, which makes it really interesting. The reason I applied for it, and am really excited to have it, is that it gives me the ability to make sure that the profession is as well-placed as possible to support us in the delivery of our vision and mission. We’re here at the RPS to put pharmacy at the forefront of healthcare: something I’ve always felt really passionate about, and that I know everyone who works here feels passionate about, and so do our members. Being able to harness all that passion in a unified directorate means that we’ll be really powerful moving forward.
In your capacity as director for England, what did you hear from members about what the RPS was doing well and what it could do better?
What I heard quickly is that some members and non-members didn’t really understand why the RPS was here. People had some conceptions about the Society that weren’t always aligned to why the organisation felt it was here. That mismatch was obvious in a few comments that were made about the RPS, and about what it wasn’t doing: it wasn’t lobbying for the community pharmacy contract; it wasn’t lobbying for terms and conditions. As director for England, hearing that meant that we needed to do something about it.
We’re reaching the conclusion of a big piece of work that’s been happening for just over a year, about listening to our members and to people who work with us — our stakeholders — about what they think we should be doing and delivering on their behalf.
Putting pharmacy at the forefront of healthcare is our mission: it’s why we’re here. And that doesn’t just mean patient-facing healthcare: that includes drug discovery and drug design; pharmaceutical scientists working in all parts of healthcare and industry — it’s all-encompassing. Pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists in healthcare are working for the benefit of patients to ensure that the public we serve has access to the safest and most effective healthcare possible. We heard from members that they wanted us to be stronger on that, and louder about that.
We’re ensuring that pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists are recognised for the work that they do already, and the work that they could do in future
Out of that work has come what we’re calling our three “value propositions”: basically, a new way of framing our offer to members. The value propositions cover recognition, development and publications. Being able to describe our offer in a few sentences is something that we’ve not been able to do before.
We’re ensuring that pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists are recognised for the work that they do already, and the work that they could do in future. So you’ll hear us talk about recognition a lot more. But also we need to ensure that the individuals within the profession are able to deliver what we’re saying they can deliver — so development, and helping the profession to develop, will become an increasingly important part of what we do. You’ll start to hear us talk about development a lot more.
And we must never forget that at the heart of the safe and effective use of medicines is quality standards, quality guidance and quality publications. We’re well-respected for our Medicines, Ethics and Practice publication. We also produce a wealth of guidance on the website for our members to use to ensure that they can best support patients. And we work with others to produce some really high-quality publications, such as The Pharmaceutical Journal, the BNF, and Medicines Complete.
So those are the three aspects of recognition, development and publications. That’s what we’ll do to help deliver the vision and mission.
What tangible changes will members see from your Directorate’s work, and the new Executive team structure?
The most visible thing that people will see immediately is our new brand.
We never set out to make a new brand but we heard from our members that they wanted us to be able to describe what we were here to deliver in a really clear way. Part of that is the new brand, the new look that people will see, and also a change in how we speak. Organisations like the RPS have a tone of voice that they use in publications and external facing things, and ours will start to change over the next couple of months. There is no reason for us to talk in really complex language. Pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists are intelligent people, but we don’t need to speak to them in a language that is indecipherable to other people. So we’ll start to speak in a clearer way.
We’ll continue to talk about the great stuff that’s there for pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists to do in future, but we know it’s hard
We hope we’ll be even more inspiring than we’ve been before. We’ll be empathetic to the challenges that there are: we’ll continue to talk about the great stuff that’s there for pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists to do in future, but we know it’s hard. Healthcare is a hard environment to work in at the moment and we need to be empathetic to that, and with our communications we’ll continue to be empathetic and recognise the challenges that there are.
We hope that through the changes we’re making, members will relate to us more. The thing about the RPS that, perhaps, sets it apart from some other organisations, is that we have a massive number of pharmacists working here — many of whom still do clinical practice. People will see that we are relevant to the work that they do now and in the future.
You were the RPS director for England for 18 months. What insight did that role give you, and how will you use that to work with the three country directors?
Our country teams also work closely together around policy and advocacy work. So we’re starting from a really good base. Can we do more work together? Yes, I think we can. The challenges that our members have, that the profession has, are the same whether you work in Leeds, my home town, or in Edinburgh or Cardiff. Most of what we do is beneficial for all members.
But there is a significant difference in the policy environment in each country. In community pharmacy, it’s significantly different. We need to be mindful of that. What our boards and country teams do is ensure that what we deliver is aligned to what’s going on in those countries.
The policy differences have become increasingly stark over the past couple of years and it’s really important that we continue our devolved way of working, while recognising that we are one organisation working behind one vision and mission.
How does your role incorporate international members, and how they experience the RPS?
As we grow our international membership, we will be able to support the profession of pharmacy across the globe. And it’s a two-way relationship: we can use the expertise across the globe to help support our members here in Great Britain.
We’re internationally renowned as an organisation and we saw that recently at the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) Congress, which we hosted [in Glasgow, Scotland, on 2–6 September 2018]. I was proud to be able to meet international members at the Congress who told me how valuable the RPS was to them, and to see new people understanding our mission and vision and wanting to join the RPS even though they weren’t based in Great Britain.
We need to work with others to ensure that pharmacy and the role of medicines are at the centre of people’s minds when they talk about health economies
We’ve got an obligation as a Royal Society to improve the health of our citizens. Problems such as antimicrobial resistance, drug design and drug shortages, and availability of the health workforce, are global issues. We need to work with others, through organisations like FIP, to ensure that pharmacy and the role of medicines are at the centre of people’s minds when they talk about health economies. The infectious diseases of the future will be global diseases. We need to be sure that pharmacists can support global health as well as their individual populations.
What would you like to achieve in the first year of your new role?
In a year, I hope that we will have clearly expressed why we are here as an organisation. Lots of different people think we’re here for different things: we heard that when we went out and spoke to more than 2,000 members, non-members and stakeholders about what they thought we were here to do. The picture was, perhaps, more confused than we would have liked.
If people can describe to me why they are members of the RPS and what it means to them, in clear terms, then we’ve made a really big step forward to having a successful future
So the work that we’re doing around our mission and vision, and being able to articulate that, is essential to our future, and to our future influence on behalf of our members and the profession. Success in a year will be that more people understand why we are here. If people can describe to me why they are members of the RPS and what it means to them, in clear terms, then we’ve made a really big step forward to having a successful future.
And our obligations aren’t just to our members: our obligations as an organisation are also to people who are 16 years old and considering a career in pharmacy. What are we going to deliver for them in 20 years’ time? That keeps me excited: doing great things for people now, but also ensuring that we’ve got a strong profession for the future. I’ll likely have multiple long-term conditions in 20 years’ time. I’ll be taking multiple medicines. I want to know that I’ve got pharmacists looking after me and making sure that the medicines I take are the right medicines and that I can take them properly.