Voting “no” in the Charter ballot will simply return the Society to its roots

What did you think when you were instructed to vote “yes”? Did you object, along with 69 per cent of members who voted “no” in the PJ Online poll (see p60) or did you think it was just business as usual from Lambeth?

The “yes” campaign issued a blatant piece of propaganda on 8 June 2009. Lambeth said: “In 2010 the [Royal Pharmaceutical] Society will separate into two new organisations — a regulator, the General Pharmaceutical Council, and a new professional leadership body for pharmacy. To pave the way for these changes the Society’s Royal Charter must be amended.”

Why “must” the Royal Charter be amended in order for Parliament to create the GPhC? The Society is not “separating”: the Government is creating a new organisation — the GPhC — by removing the regulatory function from the Society. Are the proposed Charter changes for the benefit of members or are they to meet Government requirements?

1841 Royal Charter

The current Royal Charter allows the Society to continue as the professional body for pharmacists after the creation of the GPhC. Our Society could continue with its original function started with the first Royal Charter in 1841.

It is highly misleading for Lambeth to say the Charter must be amended. Let us be crystal clear about the meaning of a “no” vote. A “no” vote would simply confirm members’ desire for our Society to remain a chartered body for pharmacists. We are able to make the proposed changes without petitioning for a revised Charter.

The President, Steve Churton, wrote about the meaning of a “no” vote (PJ, 27 June 2009, p767). Mr Churton says we need a “yes” vote to make changes to our Society but he appears to have forgotten these facts: 

  1. The composition of the Council can be changed and non-practising members may be included without a new Charter. 
  2. The composition and powers of the national boards can be changed without a new Charter. 
  3. The direction and focus of our Society may be changed without a new Charter.
  4. Our current Royal Charter does not force our Society to undertake regulation. It permits it to do so, when it has the statutory powers. 

Members were misinformed when we were told these changes required a Charter revision. Let us consider what these four facts mean:

Council composition

Article 8 of the current Charter explains how to change the composition of the Council using an “Order in Council” by the Privy Council. There would be little dissent to removing unelected members of the Society’s Council (lay, technicians etc). Adding a non-practising membership category could be done in the same process. 

National boards

Altering regulations can change the composition and powers of the national boards. First, members must agree what we need from our professional body and how much we are prepared to pay. 

Focus and direction

The Council can simply set a new direction, within the current objects, to take effect after the creation of the GPhC. The Council could also alter the structure and size of Lambeth at any time it wishes to do so.

Regulation

When Parliament removes the regulatory power, our Royal Charter remains valid. 

Lambeth has chosen to ignore the fact that we do not need a new Charter to be ready for the GPhC. It has implied that errors in the proposed Charter can be corrected, later on. The truth is a Charter revision is a rare event and should be like dispensing — it should be right first time.

Why has Lambeth spent so much resource and our money on trying to persuade pharmacists to vote “yes”, rather than changing the Society, using current powers? What is Lambeth’s motive in pushing a body for pharmacy, rather than leaving our Society as a professional body for pharmacists?

As well as a misleading press release and letters from the President in the PJ, Lambeth has deluged pharmacists with advertisements and direct mailings — truly a one-sided campaign. Finally, our voting paper included an instruction on how to vote. Democracy and fairness were clearly forgotten. Why do this if the argument is strong?

Recently, I heard a rumour that our Society has spent over £100,000 on the “yes” campaign. Not knowing what to believe, I requested that Jeremy Holmes, Chief Executive and Registrar, supply the actual figures. My request was made under the Freedom of Information Act, so the answer does not need to be given until after the Charter ballot has closed, but the truth will out.

What should ordinary pharmacists expect if they vote “yes”, as they have been instructed to do? I expect Lambeth mandarins to dominate the professional body. There will be no real democratic accountability because the unelected Assembly only meets every six months.

Ordinary pharmacists have said they want a representative body for pharmacists — not a chance! After extensive searching of the pharmacyplb website I could not find the words “representation” and “pharmacist” mentioned together. Lambeth’s plan is to transform itself from regulating pharmacy to a future of leading a pharmacy body.

A body for pharmacists

Let me give an example of why I think the professional body should remain one for pharmacists. Mark Koziol, chairman of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association, has questioned the credibility of the Society over the decriminalisation of dispensing errors because it supports the responsible pharmacist and remote supervision regulations (PJ, 13 June 2009, p694).

He highlighted the position of responsible pharmacists as being accountable even when not in the pharmacy. Pharmacists should consider if future changes to the law could make them responsible or, potentially, a criminal, even if the pharmacy owner operates an unsafe pharmacy.

For example, an employee pharmacist may leave the pharmacy to conduct medicines use reviews at an old people’s home. Next, a non-pharmacist owner or store manager could reduce pharmacy staff to an unsafe level. Responsibility for any errors would remain with the offsite pharmacist. This is hardly fair.

Why did these Department of Health proposals go unchallenged by Lambeth? For me, this is a prediction of the future if Lambeth is “committed to pharmacy”. Employer-friendly policies, such as the position on the responsible pharmacist and remote supervision, will dominate the new professional body for pharmacy. If this happens we will never see any “commitment to pharmacists” from Lambeth.

A “yes” vote means even greater influence at Lambeth for the Department of Health and pharmacy multiples, at the expense of ordinary pharmacists. Is this what pharmacists really want?

I urge readers to vote “no” before noon on Monday 20 July 2009. Join the “no” group in the first step to returning our Society to its roots — a professional body for pharmacists.

Mark Walker is a pharmacist based in Oxford

Last updated
Citation
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, July 2009;()::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.90507