Bringing with her a wealth of experience spanning community, hospital and academia, Laura Wilson took up the role of director for Scotland at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in January 2023. As former policy and practice lead for RPS Scotland — a post she held for almost two years, beginning in March 2021 — Wilson was deeply embedded in the RPS’s strategic goals and advocacy, as well as ‘Pharmacy 2030’, the professional vision for pharmacy in Scotland, published in February 2022.
Since Wilson took on her new role as director, RPS Scotland has met with Anna Glasier, the first Women’s Health Champion for Scotland, which was followed by an invite to a Scottish government working group on women’s health. In March 2023, the RPS held a joint roundtable with the Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland on sustainable prescribing; and the Society has also secured a meeting with Elena Whitham, the Scottish minister for drugs and alcohol policy, on 25 May 2023, which will include discussion on pharmacy’s role in reducing harm and preventing deaths related to drugs.
As we spoke, Wilson was preparing for a trip to Copenhagen, where she was due to share the stage with Clare Morrison, former RPS director for Scotland, to speak on the theme of ‘Prescribing to save the planet’ at the International Forum on Quality and Safety in Healthcare.
Taking time out of her packed schedule, we caught up about her background and expertise, along with the Society’s priorities in the coming months.
What is your background?
I’m a community pharmacist by background. I did my preregistration placement in community, and then I worked for a year in hospital. I thought that was the route that I wanted to go down, but I missed working with the public because, in those days, you didn’t spend as much time with patients in hospital as you do now. So, I moved back to community, became a pharmacy manager relatively quickly, and worked in that particular shop for about 14 years. While I was there, I did my independent prescribing qualification with one of the local consultant psychiatrists and worked in addiction services, doing clinics around mental health and depression, and in the addiction clinic too. We had a lot of patients who suffered with addiction, so I specialised in that area and did a lot of work with local addiction therapists to try to get the best service for those patients. After that, I moved into addiction services and worked in that service in Greater Glasgow and Clyde for seven years. During that time, I also did two years as a teacher practitioner at Strathclyde University, Glasgow.
Could you tell me about how you came to work at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society?
I’ve had experience in different sectors, which has been helpful. Then, when the job of policy lead was advertised at the RPS, it was something that I fancied trying as I was really interested in the political lobbying side of things and how that results in a change for the profession: from those initial conversations, going right through to seeing services implemented and how the RPS works with other negotiating bodies and organisations, plus politicians and the government to make things happen. I’ve been at the RPS for coming up two years now, and [at the time of interview] I’ve been in the role of director for two months.
What parts of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s vision will be a major focus for the rest of this year?
We’re going to speak in Copenhagen about sustainability and we’ll continue to focus on sustainability during 2023. We’re also looking at the developing roles of pharmacists, particularly around the pharmacotherapy service, and how pharmacists are working at those advanced levels. Hopefully, some of that will be reflected at our ‘Best Practice’ event in May 2023, where we look at innovative practice and showcase examples of that.
Health inequalities is going to remain a big thing; that’s one of the focuses for the Scottish government, and we try to align what we are working on with what the government are working on, because that’s where we can have the biggest influence. Another one of them is women’s health; where the government are looking at new pharmacy services and pharmacy’s enhanced role within that. We’ll be wanting to make sure that pharmacy’s voice is heard when they’re discussing how to implement things like that.
You’ve also been working on disability representation; for example, the roundtable at the Scottish Parliament in October 2022.
Yes, we got lots of different organisations together to discuss what impact having a disability in pharmacy can have. We heard from people who had disabilities, and who were working in pharmacy. We also heard from employers who were working to try to accommodate people who had a disability, and the things that they were doing within their organisations. It was really good to be able to share all of those experiences, and also to acknowledge that it’s not always easy.
Scotland is very advanced in independent prescribing. Some health boards have started piloting a ‘designated prescribing practitioner lite’ role, which looks interesting.
Yes, it is. It’s trying to facilitate pharmacists to become designated prescribing practitioners (DPPs), which then allows people to train as independent prescribers. Part of our vision is to see expansion of independent prescribing and make sure that people have access to services such as ‘Pharmacy First Plus’, which requires an independent prescriber in the pharmacy.
It’s about making sure that we are making full use of the prescribers already out there; the ones that are going to come through and then, by 2026, the ones that are going to graduate and be prescribers. Ensuring that we have plans in place for how they’re going to be used to the maximum, and making sure that we have the support and the structures to be able to support people to be DPPs to allow them to help train up-and-coming pharmacists.
Great Britain-wide, a lot of people want to be designated prescribing practitioners, but the challenge is finding the time to do it.
Yes, and it’s obviously a struggle in any setting, but in community pharmacy, there are particular challenges around the pharmacist, with having to be present and how they get that time away to actually supervise the students. Working out some of the logistics is proving challenging, but I think Community Pharmacy Scotland are working towards solutions to some of them.
Scotland’s rate of drug deaths has started to drop in the past couple of years, but is there anything else that would make it easier for pharmacists to support people experiencing addiction?
Naloxone in every pharmacy was one of the key asks in our drug policy; there’s great work being done to try to achieve that. It’s not something that can be done overnight, but people are looking at it, which is fantastic.
I think there are two things that would help significantly. One of them is access to patient records or access to a record that would be able to show the pharmacist things such as overdose near-misses, any concerns that have been raised by addiction services or the patient’s GP. And it would mean that there’s potential to keep a closer eye on somebody, and maybe even just ask them how they’re doing more closely, on a daily basis — just make sure that they are OK.
The other thing would be utilising the pharmacy network to provide access to treatment options for patients. I know there are pilots ongoing around the supply of Buvidal (buprenorphine; Camurus AB), which is an injectable treatment, and it’s either done on a weekly or monthly basis. So, looking at how to expand that through the pharmacy network, taking into consideration the fact there are a lot of pressures on pharmacies at the moment, so there have to be the resources available to actually provide these services. But that again would allow patients far more choice over where and when they access treatment, which would go a long way to help reduce drug deaths.
Is there anything that you’d like to add?
If there’s anything that people think would be interesting for the RPS to attend, or anything that people would like us to come and see, then myself, one of the RPS regional ambassadors or a member of the team could come out. We really want to get back out and start meeting pharmacists again; find out what’s important to them, so that we can then go back and represent that when we do our lobbying at government level. It’s about trying to make sure that what pharmacists on the ground want is heard around those tables.
People can email firstname.lastname@example.org, and it’ll be picked up by one of the team. We would love to hear from people about what’s important to them.