The three Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) national pharmacy boards came together in a joint virtual meeting for the first time on 3 February 2021.
Opening the meeting, Sandra Gidley, president of the RPS, welcomed the fact that more than 100 observers had joined this open meeting on Zoom, adding that greater member engagement was a priority for the Society.
After echoing Gidley’s welcome, Paul Bennett, chief executive of the RPS, said he was “proud of the excellent work all RPS teams have done to keep [the Society] functioning and growing” throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. He shared the news that MedicinesComplete had seen almost £1m growth in 2020, with ‘Critical Illness‘ added to the platform in early January 2021, offering “timely support for members and all healthcare professionals working in intensive care units”.
Among other completed and ongoing work, Bennett highlighted the relaunched and entirely digital Pharmaceutical Journal platform; a new partnership with Oxford University Press; plans to develop a mobile-friendly online community for members; support for provisionally registered pharmacists and the delivery of 130 Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) training sessions since October 2020.
Bennett also revealed plans to publish the RPS’s latest five-year strategy in April 2021. Noting that April also marks the RPS’s 180th anniversary, Bennett said that the strategy will “pave the way to the next 180 years”.
COVID-19 response team
Providing an update on the work of the Society’s COVID-19 response team, programme lead Elen Jones, director for RPS Wales, said that work to date includes more than 60 intelligence and research reports; responses to around 400 COVID-related member queries; 28 COVID-related webinars; as well as ongoing lobbying, stakeholder engagement and position statements on COVID-related matters, including recent support for the changes to the COVID vaccine dose interval.
Board members were then asked which activities had been the most beneficial, before being invited to point out any gaps that the team could work on.
Andre Yeung, a member of the English Pharmacy Board (EPB), asked what the Society could do around communicating with patients about ‘long COVID’ and how pharmacists could take a leadership role in this.
Rob Davies, a member of the Welsh Pharmacy Board (WPB), said the RPS should continue to highlight the role of pharmacy at every step of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, from manufacturing onwards. “Medicine, patient safety and logistics is what pharmacy does — we could highlight that more,” he added.
Fellow WPB member Dylan Jones pointed out that, as a community pharmacist, he sees certain ailments — such as chilblains — that may be related to ‘long COVID’ and suggested that the Society should look into publishing a toolkit on this topic. This idea was met with agreement from Jonathan Burton, chair of the Scottish Pharmacy Board (SPB), who said pharmacists could “pick up on patients with minor ailments and ask how they are generally, and spot if they have long COVID without realising”.
Asked by Jones if there are particular aspects of ‘long COVID’ that board members would like to see the Society focus on, Sibby Buckle, a member of the EPB, suggested mental health, as well as “the lesser known symptoms we see in pharmacy, like rashes and chilblains”.
Alasdair Macintyre, a member of the SPB, agreed, saying that “many patients come to us for those now, where they would traditionally have gone to a GP: resources to support that would be great”.
Asked about other issues that could be explored by the team, Brendon Jiang, a member of the EPB, said that keeping on top of updates is “a challenge”.
Cheryl Way, vice chair of the WPB, added that single dose preparations of the COVID-19 vaccine would be useful, “rather than having to book clinics and [vaccinate] ten people at a time”.
Ruth Mitchell, a member of the WPB, said that the Society “could support on patient’s behaviour after vaccination”, for example, around PPE and social distancing.
Closing the discussion, Jones said that the RPS COVID-19 response team’s way of working is “here to stay for the foreseeable future”.
“We will continue to review the latest evidence and work in the science-focused way that we have done, proactively with our stakeholders,” she concluded.
Gail Fleming, director for education and professional development at the RPS, highlighted what the Society has been doing to support provisionally registered pharmacists. This includes an additional timed mock exam with immediate online results, to be followed by a series of feedback sessions. By 2 February 2021, Fleming said, 1,700 trainees had signed up for the mock assessment, which is free to all members.
Fleming also explained that the Society has been contacted by trainees based in some countries who were told at the time that they were unable to take the March 2021 registration assessment remotely, and said she was “concerned about the effect on that cohort”, as well as what would happen after the assessment.
“Not everyone will pass, and we don’t know the situation this year. We will provide additional support on preparation for the next sitting, and more on wellbeing and employment options,” Fleming said.
Alex Scarbro, public relations officer at the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association, who was a guest at the meeting, said that the wellbeing of assessment candidates “has been massively affected” and that “study time has been impacted due to increased demand”.
“There is a real anxiety for people considering sitting [their assessment] in March 2021.”
It was agreed that the boards would write to the General Pharmaceutical Council about the overseas assessment decision.
The regulator has since decided that affected overseas candidates will be allowed to apply to sit the assessment remotely.
Inclusion and diversity
Amandeep Doll, head of professional belonging at the RPS, noted that the Society has committed to developing a ‘Workforce Inclusion and Wellbeing Pledge’ for pharmacy. By signing up to the pledge, Doll explained that organisations state their commitment to creating “a culture of belonging and an environment where people feel they can be their authentic self”.
The pledge will be co-created with RPS members, members of the Society’s ‘Action in Belonging, Culture and Diversity’ (ABCD) group, the RPS wellbeing action group, national pharmacy organisations and employers, and is aimed to be launched by early May 2021.
Ravi Sharma, director for England at the RPS, invited members and observers to make suggestions or provide feedback on the subject by emailing the Society.
Heidi Wright, practice and policy lead for England at the RPS, pointed out that the Society would be relaunching its webpage on wellbeing on 4 February 2021, with members being asked to back the workforce wellbeing campaign.
Yeung explained that community pharmacists can often feel isolated and “don’t have that peer support”, adding that it is “important that RPS leads on this”.
Wright responded that isolation had also been reported by some GP pharmacists, who are often the only pharmacist in the team. She said that the RPS is currently doing “a lot of work with Pharmacist Support, with a series of events until March 2021”.
Clare Morrison, director for RPS Scotland, said that the Society was looking at creating an online community for pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists, and that the first focus group, with members of RPS Locals, had been held the previous night to explore the idea.
Any other business
In other matters, Jonathan Burton, chair of the SPB, noted that nominations for the 2021 national pharmacy board elections open on 11 March 2021. He reiterated that it is important for elections to be “as open and inclusive as possible”, and asked observers to consider running for office.
“We can all contribute, whatever our career stage or background,” he said.
Finally, Burton noted that this meeting would be the last with Annamarie McGregor, currently interim policy and practice lead at the RPS, who after almost ten years with the RPS is moving to a new external role. Describing McGregor as “an inspirational individual”, Burton said her work “will have improved the quality of life for thousands of vulnerable patients and probably saved some lives”.
The next joint national pharmacy boards meeting will be held on 23 June 2021.