RPS statement on BBC Inside Out programme

Community pharmacy provides a safe and effective service to patients and the public, proven through very low error rates when prescriptions are dispensed.

The following is a statement on tonight’s upcoming BBC Inside Out programme.  You may also have seen the story on BBC Online today.

Community pharmacy provides a safe and effective service to patients and the public, proven through very low error rates when prescriptions are dispensed. Pharmacists are doing their best to provide high quality services despite the huge pressures placed upon them. 

All pharmacists recognise the enormous responsibility carried when dispensing potent medicines. The rare but tragic cases shown in the BBC programme of what happens when things go wrong are a reminder that everyone across pharmacy needs to do everything they can to reduce the risk of mistakes.   

We recognise and appreciate the real and growing pressures pharmacists face in all settings, it is an incredibly tough time to be working in a patient facing role. This is driven in part, through increasing demands from an increasing number of people with long term conditions and the reduction in NHS funding for community pharmacy in England. We have consistently asked for greater resources to be given to pharmacy across Wales, Scotland and England to help pharmacists to do more to support the health and wellbeing of their communities.

We have long campaigned for front line pharmacists to be empowered by their employers and strongly support the professional autonomy of individual pharmacists. This work is wide ranging and includes the production of guidance for members and employers on workplace pressure, as well as creating an environment where whistleblowing about public interest issues becomes safe for individuals and encouraged by employers.

The Rebalancing Medicines Legislation and Pharmacy Regulation Programme Board, on which the Society sits, is due to consider a draft Pharmacy, (Responsible Pharmacists, Superintendent Pharmacists), Order in the near future. This order will seek to define the core purpose of the superintendent pharmacist and responsible pharmacist in primary legislation with professional regulation defining how that purpose is fulfilled. We are calling on the Government to make sure that the proposals emanating from this work do not suffer the same delays that The Pharmacy (Preparation and Dispensing Errors – Registered Pharmacies) Order 2017 has endured.

Any concerns regarding patient safety must be taken seriously by both regulators and employers. We hear far too often that pharmacists are unwilling to raise concerns because of the risk to their career. All employers must encourage concerns about staffing levels to be raised by their employees without fear of consequence.

The GPhC is accused by some of being too passive in the enforcement of regulatory standards and of becoming too dependent on organisations defining their own approach to quality improvement. The GPhC needs to demonstrate how they will improve the support they give pharmacists in raising public interest concerns and change the perception that nothing will change if concerns around staffing levels or other issues are raised with them. The Society is eager to work with the GPhC on behalf of the profession in any way it can to bring this change about swiftly.

The RPS is ready and willing to help improve the open and transparent dialogue between employers and employees where that may be needed within pharmacy businesses to ensure high quality care. We would be happy to facilitate this within any pharmacy business at their request.

We are in total support of an open and transparent culture leading to greater reporting and sharing of errors. The more we learn about why errors occur, the more we can do to improve safety. The RPS is committed to supporting continual quality improvement in all aspects of pharmacy practice. We have developed professional error reporting standards which ensure there is transparency and shared learning if mistakes do occur.

The RPS already has guidance and support for community pharmacists including our professional guide for pharmacists, Medicines, Ethics and Practice. In 2018 the RPS will be developing professional standards for community pharmacy, as we have already for both public health practice and hospital pharmacy. These standards will describe ‘what good looks like’ in community pharmacy, providing a broad framework that will support pharmacists, and their teams, deliver high quality patient care.

Any RPS members who would like support in raising concerns at work can contact the RPS Professional Support Service. We have also created guidance for pharmacists about raising concerns, whistleblowing and speaking up safely in pharmacy.