It was with great sadness that we learnt of the passing of our colleague and friend Gul Root.
Gul started her career as a preregistration pharmacist at the Westminster Hospital in London, which, at the time, was one of the leading sites in the UK for innovative pharmacy practice. She went on to become a paediatric pharmacist and then a pharmaceutical advisor to East Surrey Health Authority. It is in this latter role that she began to recognise the importance of public health, and the pharmacy profession’s contribution to it. This became Gul’s passion, so when she became a principal pharmaceutical officer at the Department of Health in 2001, 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, as reflected in the new community pharmacy contractual framework in 2005.
In 2008, the Department of Health published the white paper ‘Pharmacy in England: building on strengths — delivering the future’, which promulgated a broad vision for pharmacy practice, with Gul leading the pharmacy public health element. As a result, health checks in pharmacies started to be introduced.
Gul’s way of working included identifying and talking to leading practitioners. In that way, she became connected with community pharmacy practitioners in Portsmouth. That, in turn, led to the development of the Healthy Living Pharmacy concept, which Gul championed and refined. It is now embedded in community pharmacy across England. Gul 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. 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.
Gul provided an important advisory role in the response to Harold Shipman, as well as swine flu in 2009; for example, antiviral collection points, and the various activities which surround emergency planning resilience and response. She was also centrally involved in the policy development process that led to patient group directions and non-medical independent prescribing. Without doubt her contribution to improving the health of the public through pharmacy practice was both significant and outstanding. It will leave a tremendous legacy which will impact on population health and patient care forever.
Rightly, Gul was made a Fellow of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in 2017. Gul’s contribution was also recognised beyond the pharmacy profession. She was appointed a Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health in 2011 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Public Health in 2013. Following various rearrangements in 2013, Gul became lead pharmacist for Public Health England and, in due course, within the Office of Health Improvement and Disparities. From a personal perspective, Gul was one of the most determined, passionate, caring, likeable and loyal people we have ever known. She will be deeply missed. Our sincere condolences go to Tim, Nick, Charles and their family.
Jeannette Howe, former head of pharmacy at the Department of Health and Social Care, and Keith Ridge, former chief pharmaceutical officer for England