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Opinion: Not so happy birthday RPS

By Pharmacy Magazine editor Richard Thomas

It may have passed you by but the Royal Pharmaceutical Society celebrated its 180th anniversary last month. There was a message of congratulations from the Queen and some online activity from the museum but it was a curiously ‘blink and you miss it’ affair.

That wretched Covid again, not that the RPS does pomp and ceremony these days, so intent is it on carving out a new identity since the split in 2010. 

A new five-year strategy was published to coincide with the anniversary but this was thin gruel indeed, notable mainly for causing an inevitable ruckus over the intention, poorly communicated, for pharmacy technicians to become “a type of associate member” of the body.

The RPS has said previously there were no plans to expand membership in this way – but then it also said when it moved to East Smithfield that it didn’t want to be a commercial landlord and now intends to rent out office space. Things change, I guess.

Membership heading south

At least its finances are back in reasonable shape although someone did remark pithily at the AGM that the Society increasingly resembles a publishing company with a small membership arm attached – and here lies the problem. Officials might prissily refuse to reveal the numbers but anyone can work out that membership is heading south at a rate of knots.

It’s not all bad news. The RPS is leading the way on inclusion, diversity and wellbeing in the profession. The newly elected national boards are a promising mix of experience and fresh thinking – listen to Thorrun Govind on a recent Talking Pharmacy podcast as a good example of both – but something is getting lost in translation. 

The Society is failing to convince community pharmacists in particular of its relevance to their professional lives. Make no mistake: this represents an existential threat to pharmacy’s leadership body unless it can turn things around fast.

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