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Insight: Why no community pharmacists on the leadership panel?


Insight: Why no community pharmacists on the leadership panel?

By Alexander Humphries*

Within minutes of the announcement of the new commission on pharmacy leadership, everyone was asking: “Where are the community pharmacists?” Answers on a postcard please...

The launch of the commission was supposed to be the start of an inclusive and much needed conversation about professional leadership in pharmacy. It was definitely the start of a conversation — but not necessarily the one that was initially envisaged.

Community pharmacists reacted with genuine outrage at the lack of a clear voice for the sector on the commission. It took 24 hours for anyone to notice that one of its members also happens to own a community pharmacy, but alongside three other groups he was representing – so you can’t tell me he was there mainly as a community pharmacist. The whole thing strikes me as a massive stitch-up. 

Seen it all before...

Why should anyone care? Well, we’ve been here before with this kind of establishment bright idea. Remember the Government’s Rebalancing Board, which wanted to tear up pharmacist supervision? Ultimately these reforms blew up because the sector reacted with horror at the thought that pharmacies could operate without pharmacists.

Then there was the Modernising Pharmacy Careers programme which, despite lots of good work, initially ran into difficulties over its proposals for a five-year degree course with integrated pre-reg placements that had virtually no support from employers or pharmacists – albeit some way down the track that is exactly where we are now heading. And let’s not forget pharmacist apprenticeships, which have been universally panned. The list goes on.

Great and the good

My principle objection to the composition of this new commission is that it is very ‘top heavy’ with the great and the good from all sorts of organisations. There are chairs, presidents, chief executives, professors, ‘heads of ’, and all the rest. What is lacking are credible grass roots voices. 

If you look at the organisations represented there are no less than seven NHS bodies, plus special interest groups like the Primary Care Pharmacy Association, National Association of Primary Care and the UK Clinical Pharmacy Association. While they are no doubt all fine organisations, most of them mean diddly squat to the majority of community pharmacists. 

So why no representative of community pharmacy? Do we need to form ourselves into an Association of Community Pharmacists before we get considered? Even if just 2 per cent of community pharmacists joined it would have a larger membership than most of the organisations represented around this particular table.

And why (elephant in the room time) is Keith Ridge involved? None of the former chief pharmacists of the other devolved nations are included. Nobody would object to Rose Marie Parr on the panel, for example, but, to be blunt, the inclusion of Dr Ridge feels like a two-finger salute to many of us in community pharmacy in England.

Do the right thing

Where does our newest chief pharmacist, David Webb, presumably one of the main architects behind the commission, stand in all of this? My concern is that he might not fully appreciate the deep rifts that exist between community pharmacists and NHS leaders in England. Blocking people on Twitter does not engender visions of inclusive and open leadership.

Hopefully, the commission under its respected co-chairs, Nigel Clarke and Professor Jane Dacre, will have taken note of the backlash. It is not too late to change course and make the commission more representative in order to carry out its work to best effect. This will take courage but is the right thing to do.

*Alexander Humphries is the pen name of a practising community pharmacist. The views in this article are not necessarily those of Pharmacy Magazine. What was your reaction to the make-up of the leadership commission? Email

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