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Keith Ridge: For the RPS, it really is now or never


Keith Ridge: For the RPS, it really is now or never

In an exclusive thought piece, former chief pharmaceutical officer for England Keith Ridge shares his fears around the possible impact of RPS proposals to “restructure” its executive team.

In the late noughties, and in the wake of the horrors of Shipman, Government took the decision to split the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) into what has become the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) – an independent professional regulator – and a new professional leadership body, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).

The decision to do this centred around the obvious conflict of interest between professional regulation and professional leadership in the same organisation, not least when pharmacy practice was set to become much more patient facing and clinical in nature.

The RPSGB was one of the last organisations that still had the two functions; other professions had split them many years before. 

I remember one of the Ministers saying to me at the time something along the lines of, “Well Keith, creating a new professional regulator will be easy. The difficult part will be creating a strong and effective Royal College”.

A rocky road 

Whilst I wouldn’t describe setting up the GPhC as easy, he was right about how difficult it would be to create a great Royal College for pharmacy. 

Nigel Clarke and Steve Churton did a good job setting the new professional leadership body off in the right direction through the ‘Transcom’ project, but even then everyone knew further development would be a rocky road. 

Organisations that led other professions had taken several decades to find their feet.

During my tenure as chief pharmaceutical officer I, and my GB devolved administration equivalents, tried to help the ‘new’ Royal Pharmaceutical Society, but the giant leap forward came when the RPS appointed a director for education.

This gave us the confidence to accelerate the process of reforming pharmacy education and that has recently come to fruition through the GPhC agreeing a new approach to both pre- and post-registration education and training that will revolutionise pharmacy practice. 

The most obvious example is pharmacists becoming prescribers on registration, but the reforms go way beyond that. 

Shooting itself in the foot

Now, at precisely the wrong moment, the RPS appears to be about to shoot itself, and the profession, in the foot.

If a proposed executive level restructure makes the director of education and professional development post redundant, then I see little future for the RPS in influencing the development of education and training, and ultimately the profession itself.

If the proposal is to subsume leadership of this vital, transformative education role into a single professional function as part of a senior team increasingly dominated by the publications business, then what impact will this have?

Loss of influence 

My expectation is that, over time, the RPS will be far less influential on policymakers, the media and other professions. Why would they take the view of a publisher?

The GPhC may need to look elsewhere for its steer on excellent professional practice, instead of relying on the Royal College, like other professions.

Ultimately that will all lead to an impact on patient care. Now some will say it could be positive, but in my view, an effective, well respected Royal College will have a far greater positive impact on patients and the profession.

The timing of any proposals that impact the leading role the RPS has been playing in the field of education could not be worse, with pharmacy having delivered across the pandemic and Governments now much more confident in the profession.

But there is no doubt in my mind that the reputation of the RPS has already been damaged in the minds of those who have got it this far.

Decisions, decisions

I want to be a member of a professional leadership body that delivers for patients, and for the profession, and not for those who just buy books, digital or otherwise – notwithstanding authoritative publications are an important part of an effective Royal College.

I want my successor to be able to look that former minister in the eye and say, yes, it’s not easy, but we are getting there, and the RPS is now well on the road to becoming the Royal College everyone wants to see. 

So, I hope it’s not too late – the president’s statement last week said “no decision has yet been made”. They can still do the right thing.

Keith Ridge held the position of CPhO for England for 16 years before standing down in February. He writes in a personal capacity.

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