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Why professions have protected titles

Jeremy Holmes, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Chief Executive andRegistrar, explains the Society’s position with regard to protectedtitles and why they are beneficial for health professionals and thepublic in advance of the special general meeting to be held on 19 April2009

by Jeremy Holmes

Jeremy Holmes, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Chief Executive and Registrar, explains the Society’s position with regard to protected titles and why they are beneficial for health professionals and the public in advance of the special general meeting to be held on 19 April 2009


The protected title is part of the “contract” made between the state and the professions. The state gives the professions exclusive rights to use certain titles and to perform certain roles.

In exchange, the state can be assured that anyone using those titles or performing those roles will be appropriately trained and up to date so that quality can be assured. In this way, it protects the public from the harm that could be caused by people practising a profession when they are not qualified.

All the UK health professions’ regulators have at least one protected title. For most of these, it is the main title that the profession is known by that is protected but often there is a range of other protected titles to ensure that bogus professionals cannot deceive the public by simply using a variant of the protected title.  

All the health professions’ regulators have the ability to take action against people abusing the protected title, either directly or by referring cases to the police. This right is enshrined in the statutory powers of the regulator, linked to registration.

The privileges of being a regulated healthcare profession are fiercely protected by the professions and envied by those professions that have not been afforded statutory protection.

Health regulators have the power to take action against individuals who use a protected title when they are not entitled to use it. This may include people who are not qualified to join the register or who have been struck off the register but are still practising or still holding themselves out to be on the register.

What about pharmacy?

Since the early 1930s it has been a criminal offence for anyone who is not on the Register to call themselves a pharmacist. A number of titles relating to the profession of pharmacy are currently protected by the Medicines Act 1968 and the Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians Order 2007.

These include “pharmaceutical chemist”, “pharmaceutist”, “pharmacist”, “member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society”, “fellow of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society” and “registered pharmacist”.

The term “pharmacy” is also a protected title under the Medicines Act 1968 and restricted to a registered pharmacy or the pharmaceutical department of a hospital or a health centre.

In addition “chemist and druggist”, “druggist”, “dispensing chemist” and “dispensing druggist” are restricted to a person lawfully conducting a retail pharmacy business (although few of them are used nowadays).

No one other than a person lawfully conducting a retail pharmacy business may use the title “chemist” in connection with the sale of goods by retail or the supply of any goods for retail.

This means that only people on the Register of Pharmacists can call themselves pharmacists. This is important for the pharmacy profession because there are a number of other people who may want to call themselves pharmacists or companies that would like to use the word “pharmacy” in their business name.

For example, herbalists or Chinese medicine practitioners might want to call themselves “herbal pharmacists” or “Chinese medicine pharmacists”. This would bring benefits to them by implying that they had the qualification of being a pharmacist as well as being qualified in herbal or Chinese medicine.

Pharmacists are highly trusted by the public and the unrestricted use of the title “pharmacist” would allow others to abuse the public trust that the profession has gained over many years.

There has been the occasional bogus individual claiming to be a pharmacist and even working as a pharmacist. The Society as the regulator has been able to take action against these people for a breach of the Medicines Act 1968.

The Society has also previously been able to take action against companies using the word “pharmacy” in their business name when not authorised to do so.

Are “doctor” and “nurse” protected titles?

The titles of “doctor” and “nurse” have been in general use for many centuries to describe a variety of roles. The title “doctor” is not restricted to medical doctors and is used as a courtesy title by a number of professions including doctors, dentists and veterinary surgeons. It is also used by people holding doctorates, such as a PhD.

There are a number of areas where the term “nurse” is used. These include the traditional registered nurse delivering healthcare but it will also be used in veterinary practice by a veterinary nurse, in nursery schools by a nursery nurse, etc.

This means that, while “doctor of medicine” and “registered nurse” are protected titles, “doctor” and “nurse” are not.

The lack of a general protected title for doctors and nurses can lead to confusion for the public and there have been a number of instances where people have used the title “doctor” derived from a PhD to imply that they are a medical doctor. Fortunately, pharmacy is not in this position.


The benefit to the public of a protected title is that they can be sure an individual who uses the title has met the regulator’s requirements for registration and is a bona fide professional.

The benefit to the profession is that the profession’s good name will not be brought into disrepute by unqualified people making themselves out to be genuine professionals. A protected title is therefore of high value to all parties.

The Society has responded to the Department of Health and Scottish Government’s consultation on the draft Pharmacy Order 2009, which includes provisions for the restricted title of “pharmacist”.

We will explain that response in more detail in a later article, but the Panel belowsummarises the current position and the Society’s proposals in response to the draft Order.

Current position and Society’s proposals to the draft Order


Current position

Society's proposal

Who can use the title “pharmacist”?

Pharmacists who are on the practising register, the non-practising register or the register of visiting pharmacists from relevant EU states
Pharmacists who are registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC)

Who has to be on the register?

All practising pharmacists; there is also a non-practising register
All practising pharmacists (which has a broader definition in the draft Order); the Society has recommended that the GPhC also maintains a non-practising register

What about those who have retired from the register?

They cannot legally call themselves pharmacists
They should be allowed to call themselves a “retired or “former” pharmacists

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10778347

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