Having completed her preregistration year at the Westminster Hospital in London, Gulanar (Gul) Root joined the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in 1974 after graduating from the University of Brighton with a BSc (Hons) in pharmacy.
She spent the first 20 years of her career in paediatric pharmacy, before going on to join East Surrey Health Authority as a pharmaceutical adviser in 1995.
In 2001, she joined the then Department of Health (DH), now the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), as principal pharmaceutical officer.
In a tribute to Root, published on 14 December 2022, Jeannette Howe, former head of pharmacy at the DHSC, and Keith Ridge, former chief pharmaceutical officer for England, said: “It wasn’t long before she began making the case and building the evidence base for community pharmacy to play a bigger role in health improvement.
“In due course, she led the development of the policy document ‘Choosing health through pharmacy’, published by the Department of Health in 2005. This important, well received, document set out a vision for public health through community pharmacies, utilising their community-based location. This included more smoking cessation and vaccination services, and healthy lifestyle advice,” their tribute continued.
Howe and Ridge also pointed out that Root also established the Pharmacy and Public Health Forum, “bringing together senior leaders from across the NHS, local authorities, public health and pharmacy to help drive forward the contribution of community pharmacy to public health”.
In 2013, Root was seconded from the DH to Public Health England’s Health and Wellbeing Directorate as lead pharmacist, and later became the national lead for pharmacy public health at the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.
Throughout her career, Root had a focus on public health and how pharmacies could better support their local populations.
Jane Portlock, professor emerita in pharmacy postgraduate education at the University of Sussex, recalled that Root “led the project on developing the first ever ‘Healthy living pharmacies’ in England”, which, in 2009, were located in Portsmouth, Hampshire.
“It was a very exciting time and Gul’s huge enthusiasm for recognising and utilising community pharmacy expertise in keeping people healthy as well as ably supporting them in ill health was the key driving force for success,” Portlock said.
“Gul’s clarity of thought, experience in linking policy and practice, and energy were all instrumental in the tremendous outcomes we saw. It was such a privilege to be part of the academic team at the University of Portsmouth, together with the primary care leaders, and without Gul, I don’t think we would have seen the successes [that] were delivered.
“She leaves a permanent legacy in Portsmouth and more widely as the ‘Healthy living pharmacy’ initiatives have led onto further new roles for the benefit of the public, here and more widely across the UK.”
Root was also conscious of pharmacy’s role in environmental sustainability. Writing in The Pharmaceutical Journal in November 2008, she said that pharmacists could act as leaders and advocates for the promotion of the link between health and sustainable development.
“[It is] vital that all pharmacists and pharmacy staff — in whatever sector they practise — try to make a difference, however small,” she said.
Root was made a Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health in 2011 and, in 2013, was named as Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health. In 2017, she was made a Fellow of the RPS in recognition of her contributions.
Root’s untiring focus on public health helped change the shape of the sector.
“One could argue that, without Gul’s drive and commitment to get the foundations of pharmacy public health policy right, then the major role that community pharmacy played in the COVID-19 vaccination programme would have been less likely,” Howe and Ridge said in their tribute.
Diane Ashiru-Oredope, lead pharmacist for antimicrobial resistance and healthcare-associated infections at the UK Health Security Agency, described Root as “paving the way” in pharmaceutical public health, and offered “thanks to Gul for her strategic leadership to embed pharmacy teams’ role in public/population health”.
Writing on Twitter, Bola Owolabi, director of health inequalities at NHS England, said: “[I am] deeply saddened by the death of Gul Root. We shared a view that community pharmacies have the greatest reach to narrow health inequalities. A wonderful colleague who only saw possibilities.
“I will miss her greatly.”
Claire Anderson, president of the RPS, said: “Gul was instrumental in developing the role of community pharmacy in public health.
“It was a privilege to work with Gul, Alison Blenkinsopp and Miriam Armstrong on the evidence base for the role of community in improving the health of the public. This informed ‘Choosing health through pharmacy’ and led to Gul developing ‘Healthy living pharmacy’.
“She will be greatly missed.”