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The future of the RPS depends on member engagement

In light of the pitiful turnout for the recent Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) pharmacy board elections, it is timely to give some serious thought to the relationship between the RPS and its members. I was hopeful for a healthy turnout, given the ‘noise’ of social media activity, but it seems those participating represented a small minority of the membership.

The absolute number of members is important to the RPS. Their fees are an important contributor to its existence and its ongoing financial viability. Their quantum provides the legitimacy required for the RPS to represent them effectively, and to influence stakeholders on their behalf. Any royal college in the making needs to command the support of the majority of those it seeks to serve.

However, beyond the size of the membership, it is the quality of member engagement that is of paramount importance. Of course, the RPS must provide exclusive value-added products and services which fulfil the needs of members. Of course, the RPS must continue to support and develop pharmacists’ skills and competencies, and to influence and advocate to improve the progression and perception of the profession. But, above all else, it desperately needs to become smarter at listening and responding to members.

The success or failure of any membership body is dependent upon its engagement with its members, which is about forging and sustaining meaningful relationships. This was my dream and, regrettably, it does not appear to have happened. Long-term mutually beneficial relationships are the key to the success of any organisation. The RPS is far better than the RPSGB in so many areas, but the importance of its member relationships does not seem to have the focus or the funding it deserves.

I hope the new chief executive, the president, board members, its executive, and every single employee will work tirelessly to engage with its members. I hope they will put the members at the centre of everything they do, understand members’ wants and needs, win their hearts and minds, harness their energy and enthusiasm, build their trust, appreciation and advocacy, and work with them to make the RPS the ‘must-join’ organisation it was envisaged it would be. It will take the dedicated effort of everyone, the necessary financial resources and, crucially, the marketing expertise and tools to deliver it.

We need to appreciate that members expect and deserve this, potential members need to see this, and the future of the RPS depends on this.

Steve Churton

Past President

Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20202921

Readers' comments (6)

  • Interesting article and I can well understand your disappointment bearing mind the pace of change at the time that you held office. However, despite some incredible challenges to pharmacy as it has been practised which have rocked academia and community pharmacy in the last couple of years the RPS has largely remained on the sidelines. Booing a few times ( complaining about the funding imposition) and clapping a few times ( praising the creation of practice pharmacists who now get the title of clinical pharmacists).

    How when the threats have been so savage has the RPS not been able to raise it's profile and demonstrate it's value? The NPA organised a 2m plus signature petition and mounted a legal challenge. The PSNC mounted a legal challenge. The PDA did what for ordinary employee pharmacists? This was the opportunity to shine and show leadership to the members. The skullduggery uncovered by the judicial reviews has received very little comment from RPS. Clearly pharmacists at DOH have been involved in peddling some dubious tales if the health secretary and the chancellor could be convinced that the dangerous experiment announced on December 15th 2015 was a model to invest in. Closing 3000 pharmacies at a time when A&Es turned away almost 500 ambulances last winter and GPs are under unprecedented pressure is a mad policy. Why did not the RPS call out those responsible for this from within our profession? A vote of no confidence at an extraordinary public meeting aimed at the top pharmacist civil servants responsible for such madness may have had an impact and would certainly have demonstrated the RPS was a professional leadership organisation. But it didn't happen.......

    No doubt there is a reason in the M&A, a clause in the charter, some piffling detail that said "no" but if that is the case it shows how valueless the RPS is to the vast majority of it's members. If it was a lack of will that is even worse.

    There are many reasons people don't vote. I suspect the presence of some on the ENB who have been there for years with no notable reason other than that they can muster the 1000 or so votes required to secure election serves as a barrier to new blood. But if we are talking about blood we need to get it pumping and be prepared to spill it when we are attacked. How many of the manifestos of those who have given the traditional "humbled" speech of the newly elected indicate exactly why they deserved their votes?

    How does the RPS engage? It needs to show that it actually does support it's members. Not afraid of change it must oppose change for change's sake and it must take the fight to the enemy. That is in addition to the wonderfully supportive work it currently quietly does. My biggest fear is this refusal to accept there is an enemy and if that is the case there will be even less will to tackle it.

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  • The RPS does indeed do 'wonderfully supportive work' in respect of the profession and its members. There is no doubt it could do more. Equally, as Steve Churton says, the RPS should take stronger steps to engage with its members but, equally importantly, members should themselves engage much more with their Society through the various channels open to them including the discussion opportunities on the RPS website networks.

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  • Professional body elections have low turn out in general, pharmacy is not alone. The reasons for people not voting may be numerous; overwhelming amounts of information; relative satisfaction with the performance of the RPS, the increasingly demanding and stressful jobs pharmacists have, etc . Bringing back paper ballots as a supplement to electronic voting would be a potentially useful mechanism. It is a constant physical reminder to vote.

    However, although getting more people engaged with the elections is desirable, having a public existential crisis about this every year is not entirely helpful. The RPS is vastly improved from the organisation it once was, with the elected assembly and boards working together in a cross-sectoral manner with the professional staff in the building to deliver value to the members and ensure the continued relevance of the RPS. They also do a lot of work that is not seen by the membership, acting as the lubricant between the numerous pharmacy organisations, the government, and other professional bodies. They are leading and setting the agenda on key issues. Take prescribing competences as just one important example.

    I do share Steve Churnton's desire to strengthen the relationship with the membership. The throwing away of the old branch structures, rather than their gradual evolution, was a dreadful misstep. LPFs never rebuilt the network, the people, and the sense of affiliation people felt. The debating forums we used to have are no more. The Branch Representatives Meeting enabled pharmacists to feed upwards into the society, develop their public speaking, meet with other pharmacists from across the country and gave a national platform for new diverse opinions to surface. When I see the BPSA students writing and debating motions, and holding debates, it reminds me that there is nowhere similar for this energy to go after registration.

    Rather than the RPS engaging with the membership, we could be creating a way for the membership to meaningfully engage with the RPS. That might help supply new candidates for the boards, and allow them to develop the profile with the membership that would help provide the diversity of viewpoints and skills needed to the elected boards that is essential to have a strong professional body.

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  • I fully support the above comments - particularly in respect of the local branches and the branch representatives meetings. Just hope the Boards, Assembly and RPS can bring forward some changes to address these issues.

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  • I thought I should leave this for a few weeks before commenting further. Thank you for those who have responded online to make their views clear. It is disappointing that, with the exception of a direct response from the President in support of the general thrust of my letter, no-one from the RPS felt this issue important enough to comment on. Am I the only one to find this silence disturbing? Is it another example of the apparent indifference to members views to which I refer?

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  • I'll be charitable and say that the new board has been occupied with organising itself since the recent elections. I believe the RPS has been doing a great job in offering professional support. Now is the time (and opportunity) to provide professional leadership. Most of the potential members of RPS are in the process of suffering significant harm as a result of the way in which the funding cuts have been implemented. Some of the information unearthed in the judicial reviews has been horrifying and has demonstrated conclusively that a "long game" approach has failed.

    If the newly constructed boards take the fight to DOH, particularly on getting a response to the Murray report, they will be showing the craved for leadership. Challenging those pharmacists in the DOH who have presided over the mess would also be a good move and there are many other initiatives that could be launched. When this starts being seen and recognised pharmacists will start to believe being a member is a good thing. Until then " I get my CPD from the C&D" will continually be the refrain from those who can't be recruited.

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