Royal Pharmaceutical Society

The Future of Pharmacy Professional Leadership

Portrait images of Professor Claire Anderson, RPS President, and Paul Bennett, Chief Executive Officer of RPS

By Professor Claire Anderson RPS President and Paul Bennett, RPS CEO

The role everyone in our profession plays has never been more important, be they pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, pharmaceutical scientists, or the wider pharmacy family.

Every day, pharmacy professionals are making sure that medicines help people stay healthy and treat ill health, be that through medicine discovery, development, formulation or through direct patient care.  Pharmacy professionals are embracing an expanding role in caring for patients and the wider public. Recognition of and trust in the expertise and capability of our profession is at a high point.  The future is an exciting one, but it is not without its challenges.  Everyone in pharmacy knows full well the pressures faced by our profession.  Workforce, resources and finances all pose daily challenges to your professional expertise and ambition.

Strong, supportive professional leadership is always important.  In this time of change and challenge, it is vital.  Pharmacy requires a clear, authoritative, and expert voice, one that remains independent of government and free from interference.  A voice of the profession, for the profession and for public good.

That’s why, under our leadership, the RPS has, in collaboration, developed visions for the profession in Scotland, England and Wales.  We are truly excited by what the future holds for pharmacy professionals, but we are also growing frustrated that our plans for strengthening pharmacy leadership are themselves at risk of being frustrated. We wanted to communicate this much earlier to our members and to engage with you about the proposed next steps but have been constrained in our ability to do so. We now feel compelled to voice our concerns.

In early 2022 the four UK Chief Pharmaceutical Officers (CPhOs) announced a Commission into future pharmacy professional leadership.  We engaged immediately in it to the fullest extent that we were allowed.  Our involvement was limited because it had been decided that the Commission would not have the direct involvement of the RPS or other professional bodies in pharmacy, but instead would hear from those invited by the CPhOs to participate in a personal capacity.  That decision was perplexing to us, and still is. 

Nonetheless, we contributed in every way we could to the work of the Commission.  We responded formally and fulsomely to its call for evidence.  RPS elected members and staff attended the small number of open meetings the Commission held. Our comprehensive response to the call for evidence described what we believed – and still believe - leadership should look like.  Engaging with the Commission and those behind it has not always been easy, but there has been a very positive upside: during the course of this work, we have strengthened our existing relationships with our fellow professional leadership bodies, notably PFNI and APTUK and with other Specialist Pharmacy Groups.  We are working together more closely than ever before and will continue to do so.

 At the core of what we said to the Commission is our belief that pharmacy needs to come together more strongly if professional transformation at scale is to be achieved. We described a new professional faculty structure of RPS to ensure a clear, more inclusive professional leadership voice for all the pharmacy family and one which can set the professional direction for pharmacy.

We know that RPS is not perfect.  We need to be more transparent and accountable to our members, while at the same time providing the visible and decisive leadership that is expected of us. Last year, we commissioned an independent review into our own member engagement and communication, conducted by Luther Pendragon.  We accepted all of the recommendations and have made meaningful changes.  There is more for us to do, but we are making progress.

The constitution and governance of the RPS need modernising too and we have commenced a review led by external experts in which members will be invited to participate and following which we intend to propose changes for the better to our membership. What we hope this shows is that we recognise the need for change, and we are keen to move forward with it for the benefit of the profession, our members and importantly for the public good.

Our keenness to move forward is increasingly tinged with impatience and frustration. The Commission published its report in February, but in the seven months since then it has made little if any meaningful progress.  Its deliberations are opaque as well as slow.  RPS members should be able to see what the four CPhOs are planning and constructing so that they can decide for themselves whether it is the right direction and structure, whether it is supported and resourced in a fair and effective way and whether it will ensure that everyone who can have a voice in pharmacy leadership can be heard.

The Pharmacy Professional Leadership Board that the Commission has proposed must be chaired by an experienced professional with relevant experience of the pharmacy profession and healthcare more broadly, and who holds the respect of the profession. We have sought to be involved in the chair’s selection, as have others, but the Chief Pharmaceutical Officers have not agreed to this.  That does not inspire confidence, nor does it foster a collaborative spirit.

The terms of reference of the proposed Board need careful construction and they should be agreed with us and other bodies.  That is not yet happening.  If there is to be a secretariat to the Board, as we understand is intended to be the case, then its remit should be to support the Board’s work and ensure there is no duplication of the work that RPS and other bodies are already undertaking.

All in all, we have real concerns that this is not being managed with sufficient transparency, speed or care for it to be successful and provide what the profession and the public would expect, rather than what agents of government might prefer.

We are especially concerned that independence is at risk. No other professional leadership organisations are controlled by or beholden to government or the NHS.  It would be a startling and deeply troubling departure for that to happen in pharmacy.  Yet that is the risk our profession is facing.  Leadership must be from the professions, for the professions and for the ultimate good of the public.

We do not want the proposed Board, its chair or the CPhO’s to fail in what we believe is important. We want the ambitions described in the work of the Commission to succeed – we want collaborative and strong leadership to amplify the voice of the profession and its members for public good. We just don’t think enough has been done to give us confidence that the way this is currently being undertaken is enough to deliver that and that is why we are calling for more openness and transparency with registrants and an opportunity for meaningful input from RPS, its members, other professional bodies, specialist groups and other stakeholders to shape the creation of a forum that will really be capable of taking us forward.

Ours is a genuine and well-meant call for a change in approach. We stand ready to play our part in helping make that happen.

Find out more on the work of the Commission, how it was constructed and our view on that.

Read more RPS blogs.


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