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Opinion: What message is the RPS sending to its members?


Opinion: What message is the RPS sending to its members?

Steve Churton, former president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, shares his concerns about a proposed overhaul of the RPS executive.  

Those of you who know me will appreciate that I am not someone who stands idly aside if I believe something is fundamentally wrong. I say what I think, and I act. It is just the way I am, like it or not.

So when I see the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, a body I was proud to help bring to formation in 2010, convulse in a very public way, as it has in recent weeks, I need to speak out. 

The central tenet of the RPS was to be a professional leadership body recognised as the ‘go to’ destination to improve professional practice, and to provide leadership in education and development.

In other words, a body “akin to a Royal College”: a phrase I used on many occasions, and a sentiment echoed by many presidents who have followed me. 

Gravitas and expertise

It was always the intention that with the passage of time, the RPS would emerge as the Royal College of Pharmacy.

A college on a par with the very best of those we see representing many noble professions. A college any pharmacist dedicated to self-improvement for the benefit of their patients would aspire to be a member of. A college with the gravitas and expertise to engender confidence and trust in the profession and its advancement.

I genuinely believe that the RPS has made great strides towards achieving this aim. I was very pleased to see the chief executives, the executive teams, the officers and the board and assembly members work together to nurture the embryonic organisation, engage with members, and establish a respected and influential education division and strategy. But now I am not at all sure.

Purposeful restructuring 

I absolutely appreciate that purposeful restructuring is the sign of a healthy organisation. An organisation cognisant of the need to evolve to meet the needs of its membership and the changing wider professional landscape. A landscape which increasingly offers new challenges and opportunities for advancement. 

So anything that detracts from this; anything that reduces the focus on the importance of education and development; anything that diminishes the chances of reaching for Royal College status should be concerning for all of us.

The RPS rightly points out that the present considerations are proposals and not fully formed decisions, but rarely in my experience does information such as that recently reported exist until an advanced stage in the process, and equally rarely does it transpire to be inaccurate.

The full details are yet to emerge. The RPS and its president have both issued statements, although I’m not sure that they take us much further forward.

I was content to keep my concerns largely to myself for the time being, and to give the Society the benefit of any doubt.

That was until the chair of the English Pharmacy Board stated last week that there are “No plans in (the) current strategy to be a royal college”. I read it in disbelief. I read it again. 

It wasn’t ambiguous. So why? What has changed? And if true, what is the alternative future for the RPS?

An aberration?

Could this have been an unguarded aberration, unnecessarily alarming in the absence of context or explanation? – in which case I would have expected the president to immediately clarify, as indeed I invited her to.

Or could it be that the Society has given up hope of such an aspiration, and pivoted on its axis? Either way, it’s concerning. At least to me it is. 

I understand that graduation to a Royal College of Pharmacy within the timeframe of the current strategic plan (2026) may be unlikely – even though more than a decade has already passed since the aim was originally declared – but is it really no longer the intention of the RPS to advance over time to become the royal college for a fine profession deserving of one?

And if so, what would this say about our ambition, ability and confidence to be rightly considered equal partners with other respected medical disciplines? What signal would it give to members, prospective members and those in senior positions of influence in Government? And, more importantly, what would it say about us to those who we care most about – our patients?

I sincerely hope that the RPS will come through this with the right answers, and with a renewed determination to bring about what many believe is needed. Nothing would please me more. I await with anticipation, but also with a measure of concern for its future.

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