For far too long the plethora of disparate pharmacy bodies have worked predominantly independently, only to join together when mutually beneficial to do so — and usually with the interests of their members paramount — rather than those of the wider public and patients. This is unsustainable if the profession is to flourish and be recognised as a critical and credible player in supporting health and wellbeing. In its final report, published on 6 February 2023, the UK Commission on Pharmacy Professional Leadership presents a clear vision for reform.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), in particular, has disappointed many by its failure to position itself into the territory now rightly to be occupied by the proposed Pharmacy Leadership Council. Its reluctance to evolve during the past 12 years to bring about the changes now being recommended by the commission have resulted in lost opportunities, and questions being raised concerning its relevance and ability to support, advocate, transform and lead the profession. The Society has lost the confidence of many within the profession, with consequent calls for it to change from its observers and its diminishingly loyal membership.
In an interesting collision of timing, the initial steps to instigate the Pharmacy Leadership Council coincide with the elections to the RPS national pharmacy boards, for which I predict a low voting turnout. The vision offered by the commission and the Pharmacy Leadership Council will hopefully reverse this malaise.
The commission’s report must make for very uncomfortable reading for the RPS, and specifically the elected pharmacy board and assembly members, who must surely accept their culpability for the position in which it now finds itself. Many of these undoubtedly well-intentioned individuals — through a lack of self-awareness — do not have the experience, expertise, political acumen, motivation, credibility or ability to take forward the work now needed to fulfil the commission’s vision. They would do well to reflect on this and to stand aside for the sake of the profession.
Looking to the future, the Pharmacy Leadership Council needs to be established with careful consideration, but also with pace. We cannot afford to lose this momentum. The council’s chair needs to be completely independent, with no prior connection to pharmacy and preferably with a medical background. They must also have credibility, with the ability to influence and command the respect of all professional leadership bodies and specialist professional groups, and I await the announcement of their appointment with much interest. I also consider it important that there must be a fairly early exploration and articulation of the desired ‘end state’, so that there is an underlying understanding of where the activities of the Pharmacy Leadership Council are leading, and the bodies involved can position themselves to support this.
As for the RPS, my sincere wish is for it to accept the recommendations of the report in full, and to reflect in an unbiased and dispassionate manner on its areas of strength and shortcomings. It must see itself as an equal partner in the Pharmacy Leadership Council and accept that the future landscape is for all to define and participate in. This is not a time for complacency or protectionism — it is a time for acceptance and openness. The successor organisation to the Pharmacy Leadership Council, which will be the overarching leadership body for the profession, will naturally emerge through this process. Given my personal investment in the organisation, I would, of course, like this to be a significantly repositioned, reformed, reenergised, reengaged and respected RPS, but it is right that this responsibility and honour is earned and not assumed.
Steve Churton FRPharmS, former president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, 2008–2010
Response from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society wants to work collaboratively with our members, the wider pharmacy community and the four UK chief pharmaceutical officers to deliver the professional leadership our profession deserves.
Our priority is to listen to our members and pharmacy organisations to understand different views on the report’s findings and recommendations.
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