The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) 2020 annual general meeting (AGM) was held on 24 June 2020. For the first time, the meeting was held via Zoom, with around 130 delegates in remote attendance.
Welcoming delegates, Sandra Gidley, president of the RPS, spoke of her pride in how the profession had responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and had “stepped up in so many ways” across all sectors — including pharmaceutical scientists, “as industry will play big part in tackling this problem”.
Chief executive’s report
Paul Bennett, chief executive of the Society, said that while 2019 had been “a challenging year”, the RPS “remained focused on delivering against its mission, and take steps forward towards the vision.
“Developing, creating and delivering content; holding events; advocating for policy change, giving help and support; we have tried to do this all faster and in an inspiring, relevant and empathetic way.”
Brexit had, Bennett said, featured highly in the Society’s work in 2019: “Whether you support [Brexit] or not, we felt it important to highlight how it might impact the profession — especially in the event of no-deal”. The RPS had, he said, “lobbied the government on your behalf”, including being “deeply involved” in the serious shortage protocol and in discussion on workforce availability.
A “key standout” of 2019, Bennett said, had been the commencement of work towards the Society’s inclusion and diversity strategy, which was published on 22 June 2020. He also noted how the RPS had “heard from members about welfare”, and that 80% of respondents to an RPS survey had said they felt at high risk of burnout. The RPS has, Bennett said, called upon the government to work with the Society on this issue: “We feel it has got worse with COVID-19, and we continue to call on the governments to address this.”
Some highlights of 2019 had, Bennett said, been the success of the RPS annual conference and science summit; work around assessment and credentialing and the launch of the national foundation pharmacist framework; and the inclusion of the
Palliative Care Formulary
Also in 2019, Bennett said, the RPS Assembly had agreed upon the final phase of a governance review, including improvements to regulations, and had invested in property in Scotland, with a new Edinburgh office. The Society had also “slimmed down” the back office and had the “need to reduce staff numbers, unfortunately” and frozen executive pay.
Bennett concluded by saying that he was “proud of how the [RPS] team have responded to the pandemic challenge” and “ensured that members and non-members received the best possible advice, guidance and support at pace”, including around ethical decision making, access to personal protective equipment, and death-in-service payments.
Mahendra Patel, treasurer at the RPS, told delegates that it had been a “great honour and privilege to carry out the [treasurer] role over the past two years”. Patel was speaking as his term on the Assembly came to an end: in the RPS English Pharmacy Board meeting held earlier that day, Thorrun Govind and Andre Yeung had been elected, out of four candidates (those elected, Patel and Ash Soni).
Patel said that the Society “may not be as far as we hoped in breaking even, but we have come through a difficult period”.
He went on to say that 2019 was “a tough year with losses compounded by Brexit uncertainties”, noting that the RPS had undertaken a “difficult but firm cost reduction programme” and that in March, the pandemic added further challenge. But he said the Society is “weathering the pandemic storm better than expected so far”. He also said that investments were holding up well, as was publishing, but that “membership continues to decline and fall below expectations”. He added that the Society “needs a broader spectrum of members” and a “compelling offer for the future of the profession”. The Society’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic had, he said, “been exceptional … let’s harvest that passion and dedication and play our part in shaping the RPS now, and for the future”.
Jon Jarrett, head of finance at the RPS, said that revenues had remained flat in 2019, after years of growth, adding that the “environment we operate in is increasingly competitive”. Digital publishing revenues had grown, but revenues from print sales, advertising and membership fees had fallen.
2019 had seen a deficit of £1.7m. The outlook for 2020 was, Jarrett said, “more reassuring”: the Society had “set sight on a small surplus”, but the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic had affected this. The Society is now, he said, looking at a small deficit of £0.1m this year, rather than a surplus.
The Society’s fixed assets, Jarrett said, currently slightly exceed £34m. “Overall, RPS is weathering the storm well, but we can’t stand still. We need to continue to innovate and make sure that every pound is spent wisely.”
As part of a question-and-answer session, member Eileen Peebles asked how more younger pharmacists can be encouraged to join the Society. Robbie Turner, director of pharmacy and member experience, said that the RPS is continuing to “try to adapt our offer. All our boards today committed to doing a deep view on value proposition: what the RPS can offer pharmacists in their early career, and how to ensure we deliver, on behalf of them, what they need now and in future.”
Finally, two motions were put forward by Society members. The first, moved by Hayley Gorton, proposed that the RPS AGM “should always be conducted remotely so that members from all geographical locations have the reasonable opportunity to attend”. No one spoke against the motion, and it was agreed by 94% of eligible delegates, with 6% abstaining.
Next, Nahim Khan proposed that “pharmacist members of the consultant approval panels must be RPS members”. Khan’s motion referred to the RPS’s taking over of responsibility for the approval of consultant pharmacist posts in England and Wales, as part of which employers wishing to create a new post will need to apply through the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. A panel will then will consider the application, taking into account factors such as the level of practice expected of the person who takes up the post and the proposed impact of the role across the healthcare system.
At present, Khan said, panel members do not need to be members of the RPS. “As an RPS member, faculty member and ambassador, I volunteer my own time encouraging people to be members. It is discouraging to see non-members being able to take on this role,” Khan said, adding that if membership is not required, “what message does that send out?”
In a subsequent vote, 70% of eligible delegates voted for the motion and 14% voted against.
Following the result of the motions, Gidley said that the Assembly “will reflect and give them further consideration”.