RPS director for England: ‘Let’s make sure pharmacists feel supported and invigorated’

New RPS director for England, Robbie Turner, tells Julia Robinson about his plans for 2017 and how he hopes his experience as chief executive of Community Pharmacy West Yorkshire will help him achieve his goals.

Robbie Turner Royal Pharmaceutical Society director for England

Robbie Turner joined the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) as director for England on 16 January 2017. Previously, Turner was chief executive of Community Pharmacy West Yorkshire (CPWY), the local pharmaceutical committee for West Yorkshire representing more than 560 local community pharmacies. 

I saw the job description for director for England at the RPS and it really resonated with me

Why did you decide to make the move from Community Pharmacy West Yorkshire to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society?

We had achieved a great deal at CPWY. I built it up from an organisation that employed two staff supporting 570 community pharmacies across West Yorkshire, to a team of eight or nine. The team was working really well so I thought it was an opportunity for me to take on some new challenges of my own. It wasn’t a position I was looking for; I wasn’t unhappy or desperate to move. I saw the job description for director for England at the RPS and it really resonated with me. I had some early conversations with Helen Gordon, former chief executive of the RPS, and the team, took the decision to apply and haven’t looked back.  

What knowledge and skills are you bringing with you from your previous roles that will benefit your new role?

Being able to relate to the work pharmacists do and knowing that wherever pharmacists are in their career, their commitment to improving the care of patients is central to what they do. This gives me a passion to work really hard on their behalf.

Often the things that excite the board are the same things that excite all pharmacists

I also have an understanding of the intricacies that come from working with an organisation with a board or a governance structure made up of pharmacists. It requires a different way of working that people coming from more commercial organisations don’t always appreciate. You need to be able to look at both ends of the spectrum — often the things that excite the board are the same things that excite all pharmacists, so being able to leverage some of that excitement and use that to do some really good work is something I did previously at CPWY and I’m looking forward to doing here.

The third skill is being able to work with a team. My job is to build up the team around me, support them to do good work, keep them on track, give them a vision and provide leadership.  

RPS England’s work for 2017 will centre on three strategic themes: diabetes, mental health and antimicrobial resistance. Why have you chosen this approach?

We’ve got a really clear six-stranded strategy at the RPS that guides everything we do, but when you’ve got a team and a task to do on behalf of the English Pharmacy Board (EPB), it’s easier to chunk our work up to give people a really clear indication of what we hope to achieve. This means people can support us but also hold us to account if we don’t deliver. I know from speaking to colleagues outside the RPS that sometimes there is a difference between what we deliver and what people see us delivering, so part of this approach is to try and bridge that gap.

The EPB wanted to choose areas where pharmacists have a really important role to play in improving the health and well-being of patients.

Antimicrobial resistance was a no-brainer. Every part of the journey around antibiotics includes pharmacists — from the pharmaceutical industry to pharmacist prescribers, community pharmacists and pharmacists working at a regional level.

Diabetes is another big challenge that will continue to burden the NHS. Pharmacy has a big role to play. Medicines optimisation is important but pharmacists are now more visible in the role of prevention than they’ve ever been before. If we can use the 1.6 million visits made to pharmacies to give people healthy living advice and help them to understand how they can avoid getting diabetes in the first place, then we can start to lift some of the pressure out of the system.

Everyone in the health and care service in this country will see the impact that poor mental health has on peoples’ lives. We often hear stories from our pharmacists about the relationship between mental health and physical health and the impact multiple long-term conditions have on patients and communities. The EPB recognises that we need to do more work to focus on an aspect of mental health that really speaks to our members, the public and decision makers.

A measure of success is that our members feel that we’re doing a good job on their behalf

What do you hope to achieve with these campaigns and how will you measure success?

We’re setting up a work plan as we speak. However, we’re still building a team at RPS England and some of those new members will come with their own brilliant ideas. We need to have the flexibility to deliver those and to work in a way that is best for our members.

For me, a measure of success is that our members feel that we’re doing a good job on their behalf to help them do what is often a very difficult job. We regularly go out and ask them and get positive results.

I also want for us to have had public benefit — being able to know that we’ve improved the health of our communities is something that drives the RPS to deliver really good work. But we need to be able to demonstrate this a lot more than we’ve done in the past. I hear people jokingly refer to the ivory tower, but even after only a few weeks I see the passion in the people in the building to do great work that helps our members and the public.

What are your plans for RPS local engagement and how will you be ensuring an increase in member engagement?

Our focus for 2017 will be making sure we’re supporting our pharmacists on the ground to meet and develop with their peers through the local practice forum network and make sure they feel as supported and invigorated as possible. We know that people appreciate the face-to-face aspect of local engagement and we’ve committed to maintaining that at the core of what we do. But we will also look at how we can widen that through digital channels such as webinars, podcasts, and short-form information to help people who can’t come out of an evening to fit local engagement around how they work.  

How do you plan to influence at the highest level in the NHS and government to ensure the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s recommendations are taken forward?

Making sure that we continue to work strongly with national stakeholders is an important strand of work for 2017. A lot of what we do with national engagement is to highlight what pharmacists are already doing and what the opportunities are for them in the future. Building relationships with national organisations is always difficult as people are so busy. But we’re now seeing decision makers at all levels recognising pharmacists as part of the solution to some of the challenges the NHS has. If we can shine a light on where this is already happening, the small-scale innovations can then become big-scale revolutions.

We’re selling something that we all believe in: more integrated pharmacy services that are part of holistic healthcare for patients at all levels.  

We have a diverse membership and that gives us a voice no other pharmacy organisation has

At the 2017 Sigma conference, former health minister Alistair Burt said that the government doesn’t know who is leading pharmacy because there are so many pharmacy organisations – do you agree?

The RPS is the one organisation that represents the width and breadth of everything that pharmacy does. We have a diverse membership and that gives us a voice no other pharmacy organisation has. However, it wouldn’t be right for us to think of ourselves as the one body who can speak on behalf of pharmacy; all of the national bodies have their role. Over the past year, the national pharmacy bodies have taken on subtly different roles. This has been a challenge for some people but I think it’s been the right thing.

What we’ve got to do as the leadership body is make sure that our pharmacists are able to work in a sustainable fashion, while also describing what the future should look like. The more members we have the easier this will become as we’ll not only have a bigger national voice but we’ll also hear more voices from our membership. So when Alistair Burt says there’s not one leader of pharmacy, I think he’s right. However, to suggest that we could become one body or be seen as one voice doesn’t reflect the complexity in the system — there are a multitude of national bodies. We just need to work together and align behind patient care — by coming together and speaking with a consistent message, we can be more powerful.  

What are you confident you can achieve in the next six months?

In the next six months, my first call is to fill the vacancies in my team. Then I will be building relationships, at a local and national level, and listening across the breadth of our membership — there are pharmacists working in roles I’d never heard of before I came here! That is going to be a really exciting part of the role — having a vibrant and exciting RPS membership will be what makes us a success as an organisation.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, March 2017, Vol 298, No 7899;298(7899):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2017.20202424

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