Tony Scully: ‘We need to constantly keep adapting and growing in new ways’

Tony Scully, a publishing director at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society with responsibility for The Pharmaceutical Journal and a portfolio of other editorial products, discusses the evolution of The Pharmaceutical Journal, future plans and how we are supporting pharmacists during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tony Scully publisher of Pharmaceutical Journal Publications

In 2014, Tony Scully joined The Pharmaceutical Journal as managing editor, before taking the helm as publisher in 2016. He is now responsible for the journals, magazine and academic books programmes at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).

Formerly a scientist working in immunodiagnostics, Scully got his break in science journalism as an intern news reporter at the journal Nature, where he went on to hold several editorial roles within its publishing team, before joining the RPS. Scully spoke to The Pharmaceutical Journal about this and wider plans for keeping its digital learning and education products fit for the future.

What motivated you to join The Pharmaceutical Journal team?

In 2014, Arash Hejazi — a former colleague of mine at Nature and then publisher of The Pharmaceutical Journal —lured me to the RPS with the prospect of doing some really exciting things: to implement a new editorial strategy, relaunch the online platform, redesign the print editions.

One of the first things that struck me when I joined was how much the The Pharmaceutical Journal means to its readers — when something isn’t liked, you hear about it, which is really important.

Member surveys made it clear that the journal was highly valued, but — at the time — there was a lot more we could do to provide more practical content and improve how we presented our content online. This relationship with readers is hugely valuable and it has been central to how we manage things.

The Pharmaceutical Journal has a very rich heritage across its 180 year-history: I see myself as a custodian of that. I want to make sure that I take care of it properly, try not to break anything, and ensure that it has a bright future.

What is The Pharmaceutical Journal doing to support pharmacists through the COVID-19 pandemic?

We’ve been humbled by the important work pharmacy has been doing across all sectors during the pandemic

There was an initial challenge in shifting all of our work processes from the office to being home-based, and the team has really pulled together. But that’s nothing compared to the challenges pharmacists are facing on the frontline. We’ve been humbled by the important work pharmacy has been doing across all sectors during the pandemic.

We’ve put a lot of focus on the content that we produce and the RPS has made all COVID-19 content freely available. We’re producing practical resources that help support practice, including learning and practical guides that are relevant for pharmacy. We’re also trying to highlight the important areas of public policy, whether this is providing adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) or medicines shortages, to try to shine a light on some of the challenges that pharmacy is experiencing, and what those in pharmacy are doing, with wider audiences. We’re very proud of the profession and we’re trying to do everything that we can to support it, along with everyone at the RPS.

There was a big change in 2019, when peer-reviewed content from Clinical Pharmacist combined with The Pharmaceutical Journal. What prompted that?

The old assumption was that The Pharmaceutical Journal was for community pharmacy and Clinical Pharmacist — which originated as Hospital Pharmacist — was more clinical and for hospital-based pharmacists. However, our members told us that community pharmacists had a desire for more clinical content. So, we included more continuing professional development and clinical content in The Pharmaceutical Journal and made it more representative of pharmacy across all sectors. In changing how we position the journal, then, by implication, Clinical Pharmacist had to change as well. The changes followed some in-depth consultation with members where the proposed changes were supported, and feedback has been largely very positive. Right now, we are working on relaunching Clinical Pharmacist as an online-only research journal with more focused aims and scope to support the development of new primary care networks. More on that soon.

Can you tell us what other publications or products you manage within the portfolio?

We manage a portfolio of 14 publishing products including: The Pharmaceutical Journal; print and digital products, including the mobile apps; and ONtrack, which supports preregistration students in preparation for their registration exam. We also manage the Society’s academic books content. And, in 2020, we launched the new learning platform for undergraduate pharmacy students: Pharmacy Knowledge. As well as these products, we have research journals that we co-publish with the publisher Wiley: the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice, the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology and the Journal of Pharmaceutical Health Services Research. And we have recently launched the Integrated Healthcare Journal‎, a new journal on multidisciplinary patient-centred care in partnership with the BMJ. There is quite of a lot that we do alongside The Pharmaceutical Journal.

What is Pharmacy Knowledge and what were the motivations behind it?

Pharmacy schools should have a strong sense of ownership of Pharmacy Knowledge

Pharmacy Knowledge has been a significant piece of work over the past couple of years. We were managing a large catalogue of academic books for undergraduate students and, as with elsewhere in the larger publishing market, increasing production costs meant it was becoming unsustainable to commission new editions of some books. The undergraduate market has also undergone some significant changes recently — high fees and competition for the best students mean universities look to support the undergraduate student journey and provide value.

As a result, we looked at how we could transform the content in a new digital platform. We started by assessing the curricula across the various pharmacy schools in the UK back in 2016, and looked at how fit for purpose the 120 titles in our catalogue were. We also reached out to pharmacy schools, tutors and students to understand what their needs were around education content and the potential role we could have in supporting students.

We have reorganised the content based on subject categories instead of through books and chapters, so it’s more intuitive for users. And we provide the service to the pharmacy school, meaning that individual students no longer need to buy books. We’ve built in a suite of learning tools into the platform, structured around learning objects, with self-testing capabilities to facilitate learning. It has really changed how we commission and create content. Previously, when we wanted to update content, we needed to commission a whole new book. Now we’re able to commission content in a much more agile way — we’re able to update sections of content, whether it be a chapter or a learning object level, rather than a full book. That means that the content can remain much more up to date.

Pharmacy schools should have a strong sense of ownership of Pharmacy Knowledge – it has been bulit by the profession for the profession. We are forming an editorial group which should be representative of the schools of pharmacy and we hope to develop an ongoing relationship where schools will be able to direct us to create new content to support the evolution of undergraduate degrees. It’s a genuinely innovative thing and I think that, as a pharmacy organisation, we should be proud that we’ve been able to innovate in the publishing sector — ahead of some larger publishers, in some respects.

Since COVID-19 has emerged, we’ve rolled Pharmacy Knowledge out to all of the universities in Great Britain and it is available for the next six months to support remote teaching. Feedback has been very positive so far.

The Pharmaceutical Journal ran several campaigns in 2019, was it always part of the plan to become an active campaigning journal?

The intention was there when we relaunched The Pharmaceutical Journal back in 2014. We want to create quality content, but do it in a way where there’s heart to it as well. As part of the RPS, we are passionate about the role pharmacy plays in delivering high-quality care to patients. A lot of what we do is about championing the positive role pharmacy has, particularly in the landscape of technological disruption to the more traditional dispensing model.

We now take a much more insight-led approach to all our content. We conduct robust education programmes, trying to understand a particular practice need. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done with some industry partners addressing learning needs in diverse conditions, such as in eye care with RB, or our pharmacy-specific patient pathway on joint pain with GSK

On the policy side, the data that we’ve collected through our annual salary surveys has helped us identify important issues to report on.

With the ‘PJ Mind the Gap’ campaign, we focus coverage on gender inequality and diversity issues as part of an important policy initiative on identity and diversity by the RPS. While these are complex challenges, it’s absolutely appropriate for us as a publication, and as part of the RPS, to highlight some of these inequalities and support positive change.

How is The Pharmaceutical Journal likely to change over the next few years?

We are always looking to innovate and do new things

The one constant is change: we are always looking to innovate and do new things. Our digital platform,, has been in place for five years and we want to ensure that it remains fresh and up to date. This year, we’re doing a fair bit of work around how we can improve the member and reader experience online. We’ll also be looking to improve the overall management of the portfolio and the relationships between The Pharmaceutical Journal and the research journals.

The open access movement is going to bring about major changes at learned societies. Over the next two years, I expect big improvements in how we manage the portfolio, but we don’t take any decisions lightly. Any changes that will happen will be done in full consultation with our members and with the governance processes of the Society.

The Pharmaceutical Journal is the journal of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, but is it fair to say that the journal is an independent voice?

The Pharmaceutical Journal is an editorially independent publication, which means that any decision to publish content is the decision of the editors, akin to other reputable publications, such as the BMJ and The Lancet

The journal is also an important way for the RPS to communicate with the membership and to wider audiences, including healthcare and industry.

As an editorial team, we rely on the time and effort of our colleagues across the organisation to provide advice and comment on all matters. Any decision to publish adheres to the mission and vision of the RPS and is part of our editorial strategy, as governed by the Assembly. This is hugely important and helps ensure that The Pharmaceutical Journal can continue to deliver content that serves the needs of the entire membership, while employing the highest journalistic standards. 

Pharmacy practice is going through disruptive change

What are your biggest challenges at The Pharmaceutical Journal?

For me, personally, it has been a brilliant experience working at the Society, firstly, working with Arash and then going on to lead this brilliant team myself. Pharmacy practice is going through disruptive change, and so is the publishing industry. While there are lots of challenges, whether that be business models, subscription revenues or advertising, there are lots more opportunities and exciting new technologies that will transform how we work. We need to constantly keep adapting and growing in new ways and we are planning on looking to keep all our publications fit for the future.

Do you have a direct message for members of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society?

The relationship that The Pharmaceutical Journal has with its members is our most valuable asset. I very much welcome all forms of feedback and engagement — it is central to how we manage what we do and plan for the future. We will be looking to involve members as much as possible to continue to gather new insights by sending out surveys regularly with questions about how we should do things. We really appreciate the time members take to engage with those. It’s a hugely valuable contribution to what we do and we’re very grateful for that.



Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, May 2020, Vol 304, No 7937;304(7937):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20207951

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