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The Pharmaceutical Journal Vol 265 No 7126p855
December 09, 2000 Letters

The society

Some changes are inevitable

From Mr H. R. Fox, MRPharmS, and Mr A. R. Cox, MRPharmS

SIR,?In reply to Ian Caldwell's spirited "Broad Spectrum " article (PJ, November 11, p715), we would like to clarify the debate we sought to open up. In our original article on the subject of "split and merge " (PJ, August 19, p263) we did not seek to propagate any myths about the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, but drew attention to the charter the Society currently operates within.
We never suggested that the Society was "purely " driven by self-interest. The aims of the Society to advance chemistry and pharmacy, and promote pharmaceutical education are clearly of benefit to patients. Mr Caldwell defends the Society's regulatory skills and past record. Our original article did acknowledge this: "The Society's inspectorate and the Statutory Committee have shown an exemplary dedication to duty. "
Upon any split of the Society into two bodies as we suggested, namely, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (to represent pharmacists) and the Regulatory Committee for Pharmacy (to provide a statutory function to protect the public), it is possible for the profession to continue to self-regulate through latter body. Indeed, one could argue any such split of functions could help maintain self-regulation for the profession.
In seeking to defend the status quo, Mr Caldwell cites the overseas boards of pharmacy which, he apparently considers, may not serve the public as well as our existing regulatory system. We did not suggest this as an alternative, and we believe any change in the Society's regulatory function should build on existing strengths.
However, some changes are inevitable. Sue Norman, the chief executive of the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting (UKCC), speaking at the BPC in the great debate, "Putting our house in order: professional self-regulation and revalidation " (PJ, September 23, p441) stated that it was important for the UKCC not to be a representative body and that it was independent. Other professional groups are not rushing to merge their regulatory and representative bodies. Ms Donna Covey (director, Association of Community Health Councils in England and Wales), in the same debate, suggested that regulatory bodies should have a critical mass, and preferably a majority, of lay members. She also felt, when asked a question about the Society's dual role, that "such dual roles might have to be unravelled. The public would want to see more clarity in how professionals were regulated. "
It is clear that in these days of concordance, the "expert patient " and a less paternalistic approach to health care, increased lay representation will occur in all regulatory bodies. While it is easy to see the advantages for increased involvement of the public in the regulatory aspects of the Society, it is difficult to see what role these individuals would have in representation. How can the Society be considered representative if it has an increased proportion of lay members on its Council?
If the Society is performing well as a regulatory body, then does it perform as a representative body? Concerns have already been expressed about the Society's representative strength. One recent example is the failure of the Society to engage with the Government on the issue of NHS modernisation (PJ, August 5, p193). It has been suggested that pharmacists exhibit few signs of affiliation to the purposes of government policy, particularly in the fields of inequality and social justice in comparison with other professions.1 Perhaps a Society fully concerned with representation would have a more focused approach, deal with modernisation effectively and speak on health and social issues more freely.
We feel it important to steer the debate away from unhelpful terms such as "radical " or "reactionary " and the use of emotive language such as "mutilated stump ". It is of course a natural reaction when presented with change to experience fear, but as a profession we should have the self-confidence to debate this issue calmly. This issue is not the property of pharmacists alone, but also that of the public we serve. It is notable that the General Medical Council recently sought views from doctors and the public on options for change to its structure and size, whereas the Society issued consultation documents on its structure to its members only.

Howard FoxDorchester
Anthony CoxSutton Coldfield, West Midlands


1.Pocock RL, Jesson J. The politics of pharmacy: Why is pharmacy on the margins of political debate? Health Service Research and Pharmacy Practice Conference. 2000. Aberdeen.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 20003774

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