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PJ Letters: The Society

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The Pharmaceutical Journal Vol 267 No 7164 p321-324
8 September 2001

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  Medication errors
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Letters to the Editor

The Society (3 letters)

Access to reports of Statutory Committee inquiries

From Mr A. R. Cox, MRPharmS

The public now expect to find information on the internet and at the same time regulatory bodies are under pressure from both the public and Government to be more transparent and accountable.

I visited the websites of the regulatory bodies for nursing (United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing Midwifery and Health Visiting:, for medicine (General Medical Council: and for pharmacy (Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain: in order to find recent cases about poor practice within each profession and details for each case.

The UKCC website states that the UKCC is “protecting the public through professional standards” and cases are easily found in the news archives. August’s archives listed five nurses who had been struck off the nursing register, along with the summaries for decisions reached. Full transcripts were not available. News items appeared a few days, if not the next day, after the decision.

The GMC’s website states that the GMC is “protecting patients, guiding doctors”. The news section contained cases from the Interim Orders Committee and the Professional Conduct Committee leading to loss of registration. News items appear on the day following the committee’s meetings, although again transcripts are not available.

The Society’s website states that the Society is “helping pharmacists achieve excellence”, failing to state explicitly that it exists to protect the public. The welcome section of the website states: “The Society looks after 43,000 member pharmacists who work in all sectors of the profession, in Britain and overseas”, making no mention of its regulatory function and role in protecting patients. No cases appearing before the Statutory Committee are listed, despite two high profile cases linked to deaths of patients being reported in The Pharmaceutical Journal recently. The Society does have a link to The Pharmaceutical Journal’s PJ Online website (, but does not state that this is where details of recent Statutory Committee rulings can be found.

The Pharmaceutical Journal is a professional journal, which the public generally will not read. Even knowing that Statutory Committee proceedings are in The Pharmaceutical Journal does not help, since there is no centralised list of cases, and a search would have to be performed. There is also a delay in publishing cases. For example, the decision concerning the preregistration student in the “Boots peppermint water case” appeared in The Journal over six months after it was made.

The Society has transcripts for all Statutory Committee proceedings, which can be obtained from the Secretary and Registrar, at some expense. These transcripts contain much more detail and explanation of how the Statutory Committee comes to its decisions. Wider availability would help demystify the committee’s decisions and make the Society more transparent and accountable to the public.

The Society’s website provides effectively limitless space to provide information to the public and the profession about their regulatory role. At present, in comparison to the GMC and the UKCC, the Society is failing to provide such information on the internet in a timely manner.

One way in which the Society could improve this position could be to ensure that a log of Statutory Committee proceedings is kept at its website, is regularly updated, and that the full transcripts of the cases are available for viewing by the public and the profession.

Anthony Cox
Sutton Coldfield,
West Midlands

Not too late to lead the way

From Mr A. R. Jones, MRPharmS

The comments of Mr Whittaker (PJ, 25 August, p263) are correct in that the Society was a?late entrant in considering provision of free e-mail. At this stage it is perhaps hard to see what value could be added to current services.

There is, however, one big value that perhaps has been missed — that of securely identifying the user as a registered pharmacist. Many “professionals only services” could be provided over the web if only there were a good mechanism of establishing that the visitor was a definitely a pharmacist, a doctor, etc. Services that use registration numbers are clumsy for users and somewhat open to abuse because the registration numbers are often openly published — on the web now in the case of doctors.

Most websites that require registration use the e-mail address as the unique identifier of the visitor, and make it part of any login required. If the Society made available an e-mail account like for all its members, then any website provider that wanted to make sure their users were legitimate pharmacists could just require a Society e-mail address. If all professional societies did this the ability to provide?professional-only forums and services would be greatly simplified. It is not too late for our Society to lead the way.

Alan Jones

Need for better quality careers promotion

From Mr M. G. Aiken, MRPharmS

I have been teaching pharmacy undergraduates since 1964, and have been admissions tutor for pharmacy at the University of Brighton since 1975. It is regrettable that your article “Crisis looming for pharmacy courses?” (PJ, 25 August, p251) was only able to report the findings from six schools of pharmacy. The Journal may find it useful for further surveys to use the e-mail/fax/telephone network set up by Dr Tim Mason and his colleagues at Portsmouth for pharmacy admissions tutors. Our own experience is that we have not suffered a drop in entry standard or acceptance of offered places.

As Alan Nathan stated, however, there is an overall decline in applications, which has been apparent for several years, to schools of pharmacy. This is not surprising given the additional 1,000 medical school places created in the past two years, a subject which traditionally competes with pharmacy for well qualified candidates, and the declining number of students taking science A-levels.

There are further pressures on the selection process: substantially increased intakes to many schools of pharmacy, and pressure from central government to look beyond the traditional A-level route of entry. Clearly there is a limit to the number of students in the 24?30 A-level point range.

In our own cohort analyses, there is no satisfactory correlation between entry qualification and final degree: interview is often an important aspect of the selection process. There is no evidence to suggest that future graduates, from a wider entry background, will not make good practitioners.

Better quality careers promotion needs to be provided by the Society to support the excellent work of local careers officers. Dr Peter Elliott’s “teach the public” and “community pharmacy experience for school children” are good ideas. The image of pharmacy and its role as a prescribing profession needs to be promoted to encourage prospective students. This is something, we have not hitherto taken the lead in, and we need to recover a position for which we are ideally trained.

Malcolm Aiken
Principal Lecturer/Course Admissions Tutor
University of Brighton

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