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John Balmford

I was very sorry to learn of the death of John E. Balmford, who was a long serving member of the RPS Council and President of the Society 1978–79. John was a community pharmacist who for many years ran his own pharmacy in Litchfield, Staffordshire. Despite being president nearly 40 years ago, John’s name perhaps remained familiar to today’s generation of pharmacists through his continued involvement in the profession particularly through the letters in The Pharmaceutical Journal. A man of strong opinions, he was unafraid to voice them especially when he thought high standards or traditional values were being threatened. However, today’s pharmacist may be unaware of the pioneering role he played in earlier times.

Astonishing to modern practitioners, in the 1970s, the only records kept of dispensing were of private prescriptions. With no computer capture of NHS prescriptions, they were all simply bundled up and sent to the Pricing Bureau. John was one of the pioneers who started to record by way of card indexes what was dispensed on NHS prescriptions, and for the first time, monthly dispensing could be compared, and previously unknown interactions identified or errors spotted. While critics saw the idea as much extra work for no pay, John had his followers (including me) who realised the patient benefits as well as the goodwill generated by a closer relationship with the regular patients. Increasing numbers of pharmacists followed his lead which was greatly facilitated by the advent of computerisation in the 1980s when electronic data capture allowed card index systems to be superseded. Furthermore, John was an early advocate of additional patient information labels. At a time when labels were hand written or preprinted, the most patients got were instructions reading “one to be taken three times a day” or such like. John again was a pioneer for additional labels such as “complete the course “or “avoid alcohol”, which nowadays are seen as an absolute necessity. With rather less success he also advocated pictogram labels intended to be used in countries with low literacy. Modern day pharmacists would find a world without these practice interventions incredible, but 40 years ago these were cutting-edge innovations.

John also became the enthusiastic first chairman of the College of Pharmacy Practice, a body created by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society to promote additional high standards of education and practice, and a form of precursor to today’s Faculty. The College flourished under the leadership of John and also of the late Raymond Dickinson OBE, but with the changes in the structure of the RPS in the 21st century, it was reabsorbed into the Society. However, John once again played a pivotal role in its early days. He was also well known on the international stage of FIP and the Commonwealth Pharmaceutical Association.

A larger than life character, John collected pharmaceutical antiques and historic cars and took part in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Rally. Often combative but frequently kind and considerate he made a significant contribution to pharmacy practice that many (including John) thought insufficiently recognised. Much of today’s community practice owes a debt to the pioneers of extended practice such as John, and our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.


Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20203296

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