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The Pharmaceutical Journal
Vol 271 No 7257 p44
12 July 2003

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Let us be called the Royal Society of Pharmacists of Great Britain

By Anthony Cox

Anthony Cox is a hospital pharmacist from Birmingham, an honorary auditor of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and a member ofThe Journal's editorial advisory board

This year finally sees the end of British Approved Names (BANs) and the move to Recommended International Non-propriety Names (rINNs) for drugs. Like all changes it will lead to a period of adjustment while we become used to looking for bendroflumethiazide and hydroxycarbamide on our shelves and in the index of the British National Formulary. However, the actual pharmacological properties of the drugs will remain the same and in time the problems arising from this change will disappear.

Another change we should be considering this year is the name of our representative body, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. It is worth asking whether or not the name of our Society reflects what we want the future function of the Society to be. Does our name communicate to others who the membership of the Society is?

No doubt when the Society was formed the current name was highly suitable, but since then language has moved on, as has the profession. Few of us call ourselves pharmaceutists these days, and most of us prefer to called pharmacists rather than chemists. Since pharmacists make up the membership of the Society, perhaps the Society should be renamed in order to reflect this.

I suggest that a more contemporary and descriptive name for the Society would be the Royal Society of Pharmacists of Great Britain. Of course, there may be differing views of the merits of any given name, but the crucial point is that as the representative and regulatory organisation for pharmacists, the word "pharmacist" should be in its name.

Some might suggest that, at a time when the Society is struggling to deal with numerous pressures, changing the name of the Society is a peripheral issue that would bring little benefit. This is far from the case. Whereas, the change from BANs to rINNs will not affect the function of any drug, a name change for the Society could help define its future function.

The function of the Society as a representative professional body is ensured by the charter object "To maintain the honour and safeguard and promote the interests of the members in their exercise of the profession of pharmacy." This object was overwhelmingly endorsed by the membership at a special general meeting held last month and, more recently, the Secretary and Registrar stated that the Society has no intention of giving up or reducing its commitment to professional leadership, development and advocacy.

Sadly, the object that promotes the interests of the profession has been deleted from the draft new charter, although no reason has been given for this decision. Promoting the profession is only mentioned as a power of the Society, but even that has ceased to promote the pharmacy profession alone, but now includes "other persons engaged in related activities". It appears to promote pharmaceutical activities, rather than pharmacists. What the new charter defines is a pharmaceutical regulator, not a professional representative membership body for pharmacists.

Yet it is clear that any new charter must incorporate the representative role of the Society as an object, if it is to enjoy widespread support. The membership of the Society is unlikely to agree to a charter that does not continue this core representative function of the Society. So if the membership believes we have a "society of pharmacists", why not call it that?

Such a change in name removes confusion about the Society's role and makes the representative function of the Society clear. It may well focus minds and ensure the modernisation process and resultant changes to our charter reflect the fact it is a professional representative body for pharmacists as well as the regulator. In that respect the name change would help maintain, and perhaps develop, the role of the Society as a representative body.

In addition, when dealing at a local or national level with the public and media it would be clear that our Society represents pharmacists; no explanation would be necessary. Instead of asking "So whom do you represent?", people would instantly know that the Society represents pharmacists. Many of the public already associate the term "pharmaceutical" with the pharmaceutical industry and its products, and potential confusion exists with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. Politically, it would be better to look more like independent health professionals rather than giving the suggestion, erroneously, that we might speak for the industry. In a world of sound bites and short attention spans, do we really want to be saddled with a name that requires explanation to many lay people?

The change from "pharmaceutical" to "pharmacist" would not exclude those pharmacists who work in industry. Indeed, industrial pharmacists who have written to The Journal recently, seem keen to hold on to the title "pharmacist". Wherever we practise — a university, hospital, community pharmacy, primary care trust, publishing or industry — members of the Society all are pharmacists. So why not change the name of the organisation to reflect its make up and its representative purpose?

Another concern is that such a name change might prevent the registration of technicians by the Society. However, the Council has only made the decision to regulate technicians, not make them members. There appears to be no reason why the attached regulatory machinery of any reformed Society could not maintain a register of technicians, whatever the Society's eventual name. In any case technicians have their own representative body in the Association of Pharmacy Technicians.

In the light of the Council's decision to regulate and register pharmacy technicians, the APT's strategic plan for 2003?08 states that it "must seriously consider and develop its future role as a professional and representative voice for pharmacy technicians". It is unlikely to require representation from our representative body and would see any such move as a threat to the continued existence of a separate and independent professional voice. In any case, the Society can liaise with the APT on professional issues when the need arises, just as it does now with Royal Colleges and the British Medical Association.

There is an example of a similar change in name. This year, after 150 years, members of the American Pharmaceutical Association voted to change their organisation's name to the American Pharmacists Association. The APhA rejected the name American Pharmacy Association, because that referred to a place of work, rather than to the pharmacist. Just as in Britain, pharmacists are increasingly working outside pharmacies and the term "pharmacy" did not encompass all members. The pharmaceutical sciences community of the APhA was fully behind the name change.

The APhA also believed that "pharmaceutical" had come to be associated in the minds of the public with the large, multinational pharmaceutical companies, and that by using the word "pharmacist" it would be more able to connect with the public. It would no longer have to explain whom they represented when lobbying; the new name speaks for itself.

After 150 years, we should be justifiably cautious about changing our name, but what better time to do so than now?


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