I must agree with your editorial (The Pharmaceutical Journal
2016;297:4) that a review of the governance of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) is needed. When an effective sitting President of the Society is removed not for genuine political reasons but by a quirk of the electoral system, something is wrong. The Society is fortunate in that it had an experienced former President, in the shape of Martin Astbury, able to step up to the bar.
I do, however, take issue with you that the RPS is only five years old. It is not. For nearly 170 years it had (aside from some lay appointees) a directly elected Council which, in a misguided effort to make a clean break with the past, was replaced with the national pharmacy boards and the indirectly elected Assembly. All the other major royal colleges in medicine have, instead, a governing council, which provides just that: counsel. What does an Assembly do? Assemble? In not being able to re-elect a sitting President it did not even manage that.
There are many good people elected to and working in the Society’s governing structure and, in this case, it is the structure that should be held to account, not the people. We live in a representative democracy and it should be understood that those we elect are there to take decisions on our behalf. We elect such people to consider complex information on our behalf because in our day-to-day life most of us do not have the time to be fully informed on every issue. For similar reasons, a Council should elect a President from its own elected members, rather than the whole membership; a President who thus has the confidence not only of the overall electorate who, after all, put him or her on the Council, but also of the majority of the Council. One has only to have to look at the EU referendum, or the Labour Party leadership campaign, to see the chaos that arises when decisions are removed from our elected representatives in Parliament.
Any new governance structure must also find a way for the national pharmacy boards to deal with devolved matters unique to each country, such as the NHS, while having a guaranteed voice for them on the central forum. A similar facility should apply for sectoral interests.
The Society needs to act now on governance. A review should be set up without delay.
Nicholas L Wood
President, Royal Pharmaceutical Society (1993–1994 and 2004–2005)