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What would you fight for? RPS election candidates pick their pharmacy battles

­Janna Lawrence investigates what the Royal Pharmaceutical Society pharmacy board candidates will be trying to achieve in the coming 12 months, if you gave them your votes

Imagine for a moment that pharmacies are no longer required to have a pharmacist. This is a very real threat, according to one of the candidates up for election to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s national pharmacy boards. This is just one of the battles that prospective board members have said that they would fight on your behalf — with some candidates up for election holding quite different views on what is important for the profession.

As an individual you might not feel that you have the power, or time, to make a difference to the profession as a whole. But there is strength and influence in numbers — and this is most certainly the case for membership organisations like the RPS. Pharmacy board members set the agenda for the Society and, with elections open until noon on 30 May, now is your chance to influence who gets to shape the organisation’s work.

Yet judging by last year’s voting turn-out — as low as 10 per cent in England — many readers of The Pharmaceutical Journal may be debating whether voting is worth their time. The Journal thinks it is and, to help you make a decision about who to vote for, we have asked each candidate standing for election the same, single question: “If elected, what is the most important thing you would fight to deliver, over the coming 12 months, for the profession and the people who gave you their votes?” Candidates who stood alone for a seat and have been automatically elected were not asked to participate.

As The Journal went to press, we had received responses from nine of the 10 candidates up for election to the English Pharmacy Board, all three of the candidates standing for election to the Welsh board and all five of the Scottish board candidates. Candidate profiles can be viewed here .

Across the devolved nations, a number of common threads ran through some candidates’ responses. Others stood alone in their priorities.

England

Starting in England, one of the key themes was the implementation of the “Now or never” report from the Commission on Future Models of Care.

Barbara “Lynn” Haygarth, specialist pharmacy adviser in mental health, is one of the candidates for the English Pharmacy Board. She told The Journal that her priorities are fighting for access to the summary care record and linking care between all pharmacy sectors in order to optimise medicines management.

She referenced the “Now or never” report, saying she would utilise its key points and also campaign for increased pharmacist membership of the RPS and the RPS Faculty.

Ash Soni, community pharmacist and current vice-chairman of the EPB, shared some of Mrs Haygarth’s views and added that he would work with NHS England, Public Health England and the Department of Health to help push the “Now or never” agenda and see the role of pharmacists expanded.

“Given the announcement that clinical commissioning groups will have the opportunity to increase their role in the commissioning of primary care services, I will ensure that at events I attend I continually promote the importance of pharmacists in helping the NHS to achieve improved outcomes with restricted financial resources. I will also continue to use my board position in Health Education South London to exemplify the benefits of investing in training and education for pharmacists and their supporting staff,” he said.

Adding to this, Sandra Gidley, locum community pharmacist and current member of the EPB, said: “My main focus will be to make sure that the ‘Now or never’ report is translated into action and is not yet another report consigned to the pharmacy scrapheap. It is essential that more power to provide services is given to individual pharmacists.” She also warned that the provision of services by community pharmacy is, all too often, target-driven rather than patient-centred, with many pharmacists put under pressure to deliver medicines use reviews by quota rather than quality.

Something must change

One candidate warned that for pharmacists to perform new roles there would have to be a systems-wide approach to change. Deborah Evans, national Healthy Living Pharmacy project manager, told The Journal : “We are all busier than ever so simply doing more isn’t an option. Something has to change… . I will fight to ensure you are engaged in and inspired by the future whilst having in place the enablers to empower you as a professional to care for your patients.”

Fellow candidate Luca Viani, store manager at Boots, puts access to patient records above everything else, saying that it is the “gateway to our success”.

“This will not only improve patient safety but it will also allow much more effective communication between GP surgeries, hospitals and pharmacies, giving a broader and more comprehensive picture of the patient health journey,” said Dr Viani. Other candidates drew on their experience to illustrate how that would help them to achieve their goals for the profession.

Cheryl Clement, an independent pharmacy adviser in Kent, said that she is uniquely qualified to take forward the concepts of the “Now or never” report because of her operational knowledge of the community pharmacy contractual framework, among other pieces of work. One of her main focuses would be independent prescribing: “I am very interested in exploring the concept of all community pharmacists being able to prescribe, say for common ailments and long term conditions — much as community nurses do now. This will certainly mean a change to the way that pharmacists are funded and I would want to be involved in influencing these changes.”

Sweat shop pharmacies

In England, there were warnings of “sweat shop” pharmacies and a profession being threatened from all angles. Those were from current RPS President and community pharmacist Martin Astbury, who said: “Remote supervision and corporate employer forced targets (eg, medicines use reviews) threaten pharmacy’s future and the safety of our patients. The board should be using its influence to reduce sweat shop pharmacies and the workload heaped on pharmacists in all sectors, whilst elevating us in the public’s eye to doctor status.”

Mr Astbury also warned that plans are afoot to change the regulations on supervision. “There are those out there who are pushing strongly for pharmacies without pharmacists. This mustn’t be allowed to happen. If I had not been fighting for pharmacists in the last few years then pharmacies without pharmacists would probably now be a reality. Mandate me to continue the fight.”

The Journal reported at the end of the last year that the number of pharmacy graduates was expected to rise far beyond demand. Mr Astbury is advocating a cap on student numbers, and said: “If we end up with more pharmacists than jobs the multiples will pay us as little as they can get away with.” Mr Astbury also called for a reduction in the General Pharmaceutical Council’s registrant fees, saying that “we should not be subsidising the rest of pharmacy regulation, eg, the premises fee”.

But not all responses focused on combating the threats to the profession. Some candidates spoke of the opportunities. David Bearman, who is Devon Local Pharmaceutical Committee chairman and Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Professional Network lead, said: “Workforce and financial pressures present a ‘window of opportunity’ for us to find new roles in the health system; by doing so we will prevent an employment crisis, create new income streams, enhance professional standing and energise the development of new models of care. Locally we have seen GPs responding positively to potentially using pharmacy resources in practice and in the community… . I will vigorously pursue the opportunities these new relationships will bring.”

Sally “Lara” Rose, a locum pharmacist and local practice forum lead in Leeds, told The Journal that her focus would be on the development of new roles for pharmacists, especially at the interface between primary and secondary care. “I would also like to increase pharmacist’s confidence and presence in the media,” she added.  

Scotland

In Scotland, the RPS was criticised by one candidate for not being more vocal, whereas another wanted it to raise awareness of the profession. Most Scottish Pharmacy Board candidates were also determined to see progress with Scotland’s pharmacy action plan, called “Prescription for excellence”.

Alan Glauch, a pharmacist independent prescriber at John Smith Pharmacy, in South East Edinburgh, said that as a community pharmacist he understands the pressures that are facing the sector. “I am keen to be instrumental in the delivery of ‘Prescription for excellence’. One of the key challenges is moving from a dispensing-based role to a clinically focused role. We all have ability to do it, but it’s about having the confidence in ourselves, and that requires working with each other and with our secondary care and primary care colleagues.” 

Also speaking up for community pharmacy was Ewan Black, who is pharmacy superintendent at Greenhead Pharmacy in Dumbarton and currently an SPB member. However, he told The Journal that his focus would be on getting the RPS to be a more vocal organisation that is less afraid of controversy. “The Society certainly could be much more vocal in speaking out in relation to the multitude of negative factors that bedevil community pharmacy practice and that impinge, … ultimately, on patient care.”

He went on: “I would fight to deliver a Scottish board, and RPS, which is prepared to speak out for our profession. And, I would fight to deliver an organisation that takes decisions and develops policy grounded in reality: a realty that reflects the aspirations of the most numerous cohort of the profession, practising community pharmacists.”

Another priority for the RPS should be a campaign to make the general public more aware of the role of the pharmacist, according to Ailsa Power, assistant director of pharmacy at NHS Education for Scotland. She told The Journal : “In the last 10 years our roles have changed enormously and will continue to dramatically change in the next 10 years… . When speaking with patient groups, it would appear that there is not a universal understanding of our role.”

Other healthcare professions — GPs, nurses, dentists, opticians — have clearly defined roles in the minds of patients, Dr Power explained. “To establish or clarify with the public what we can offer in terms of healthcare today will assist us greatly when we try to deliver ‘Prescription for excellence’.”

“Prescription for excellence” debate

Andrea Smith, lead pharmacist in pharmacy services at NHS Fife and a current SPB member, said that it is important that the profession steers its own path while implementing “Prescription for excellence”.

“I see a crucial role as a Scottish Pharmacy Board member as raising awareness and securing engagement from the profession in the widest sense. I will urge colleagues to debate on every aspect of this vision and I will encourage frank discussion with all stakeholders and openness and transparency in doing so.”

Similar points about community representation and “Prescription for Excellence were made by Martin Green, current Scottish board member and owner and contractor of M&D Green dispensing chemists in Glasgow. But he added: “While concentrating our efforts on shaping ‘Prescription for excellence’ it will be essential that we maintain our support for members in other areas. The new GPhC inspection regime is adding further regulatory burden and members will require ongoing support as more inspection experience is gained.”

Wales

Whereas board candidates from England and Scotland could talk about implementing respective national visions for pharmacy services, one Welsh Pharmacy Board candidate highlighted that her nation does not yet have a similar vision for pharmacy. Suzanne Scott-Thomas, who is chief pharmacist and medicines management lead at Cwm Taf University Health Board and a current WPB member, told The Journal that the mtyost important thing she would fight to deliver is a pharmacy vision document for Wales which reflects an integrated profession.

“The vision can be used to lobby the Welsh Government and local health boards to deliver the identified aspirations and, more importantly, to communicate to patients and the public what the pharmacy profession can provide for them,” she said, adding: “We all have a responsibility to develop as a professional and the RPS has a responsibility to develop the profession.”

One WPB candidate was keen to promote work that the RPS is already doing to develop the profession, namely the RPS Faculty. Sarah Cockbill, current Welsh board member and honorary lecturer at Cardiff School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Cardiff University, said that the introduction of the RPS Faculty has immediately made the existence of the RPS seem relevant to the pharmacists who have been ambivalent about either joining or continuing their membership. “I intend to continue promoting both the RPS and the RPS Faculty at every opportunity and your vote, should I be re-elected to the Welsh board, would enable me to do this with authority,” she explained. 

Another priority of Dr Cockbill is the conservation of library materials from Lambeth during and after the RPS’s move to its new location in London in 2015: “Your vote would enable me to continue to have input into the important preservation of this irreplaceable element of the history of our profession.” She also said she would make sure that the RPS continued to have an influence on the “imminent” legislative changes to areas of current pharmaceutical practice. 

Membership surveys

Listening to the RPS membership and establishing what the important issues are was the main focus for Rob Davies, prescribing information support pharmacist, Wrexham Maelor Hospital.

He said: “I will ensure that we assess members’ views by all means possible including simple online surveys. Surveys elsewhere show members are concerned about decriminalisation of single dispensing errors and workload pressures… . I will be pushing for the RPS, as the professional body for pharmacists, to give members every possible support to maintain safe practice.”

How to vote

Members and fellows of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society who paid the 2014 membership fee by 17 April are eligible to vote. Voting papers were to be emailed or posted (if requested) to the electorate on 9 May ahead of voting opening on 10 May.

Members or fellows who have not received this communication should contact the scrutineer, UK Engage, Image House, 10 Acorn Business Park, Heaton Lane, Stockport SK4 1AS; email rps@uk-engage.org ; tel 0345 209 3770. Votes must be cast or received by the scrutineer by post by noon on 30 May 2014.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11138199

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