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Has the RPS washed its hands of community pharmacy?

In May 2015, I wrote to The Pharmaceutical Journal proposing that the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) should hold a ‘Five Year Forward View’ conference to showcase how innovation in community pharmacy could deliver for the NHS.

I pointed out that the Royal College of General Practitioners had done a fantastic job making the case for increased investment in general practice. The RPS, in its professional leadership role, is ideally placed to highlight and synergise best practice in community pharmacy, and help assure a future for the sector and benefits for patients. The RPS did nothing.

In May 2017, I wrote again to express my disappointment with the RPS’s apparent obsession with the GP-pharmacist agenda, not because I oppose the initiative, but because of the way it is being rolled out at the expense of community pharmacy. I pointed out that I had searched the homepage of the new RPS website, in vain, for any reference to the community pharmacy funding cuts.

Then, as now, the media was full of NHS stories about nurses, patients and GPs (but community pharmacy is scarcely mentioned), so I searched the @rpharms Twitter feed — again, in vain — for any recent mention of the cuts. I drew a blank.

The RPS continued to do nothing.

While I accept that the RPS has a different role from the Pharmacists’ Defence Association or the National Pharmacy Association, for example, it certainly has an obligation to speak out when national health policy is damaging the profession and the interests of patients. Current government policy is to bring about the closure of up to 3,000 local pharmacies by means of indiscriminate financial attrition. The Government has admitted that it does not know which pharmacies will close, and when questioned about it, Keith Ridge, the chief pharmaceutical officer, responded that “the market will decide”. The entire network is being deliberately placed under an intolerable strain in order to force closures with no regard to patient safety or pharmacists’ wellbeing. Surely the RPS has a legitimate role here, if not a moral obligation to act, but it stands silent.

The NHS is in crisis. Community pharmacy faces an existential threat. Patient safety is compromised, and yet, the RPS is focused on an irrelevant handwashing campaign?

I have to ask: has the RPS washed its hands of community pharmacy?


Graham Phillips, member, Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Welwyn, Hertfordshire

As a community pharmacist, I recognise and appreciate how difficult the funding cuts have been for both business owners and the wider profession. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has always opposed these cuts and continues to do so. The uncertainty about jobs, reductions in support staff and the impact on services to patients is something I can relate to directly.

I would like to assure you that the RPS English Pharmacy Board, which includes colleagues such as locums like me, community pharmacist employees and business owners, to ensure that community pharmacy is a very active part of our programme.

Far from washing our hands of community pharmacy we, alongside other organisations, have been successful in campaigning for investment in community pharmacy to allow access to patient care records. Summary Care Record access is a great first step in ensuring community pharmacy is fully integrated into the wider NHS.

This is just a first step. There is no doubt that much, much more needs to be done to enable community pharmacists do more for patients and the public.

We have made very clear to Steve Brine MP, pharmacy minister, that we expect more focus on investment in improving patient care through community pharmacy.

We have been clear that the NHS England Pharmacy Integration Fund needs to enable pharmacists working in the community sector to benefit from, for example, training in prescribing and an NHS-backed patient-facing TV campaign promoting the role of the pharmacist. Both are now coming to fruition.

We are also pleased to see that the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee is now looking to reform the community pharmacy contractual framework to focus on service delivery — something we have argued would reward pharmacists who offer patient centred services, such as those provided by you.

We are, I believe, showing our commitment to community pharmacy with these actions. As always, I would welcome further conversation with Graham and all members about what more we could do; pulling together, and recognising that there are many different ways of achieving an end, are more productive than a lot of people, each with their own view of Nirvana, shouting from the sidelines.


Sandra Gidley

Chair, RPS English Pharmacy Board

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2018.20204309

Readers' comments (1)

  • I have written previously about the need for the RPS to demonstrate the leadership rightly expected of it. The importance of cultivating a deep understanding of the concerns and needs of its members, the imperative of forging meaningful relationships, and the establishment of the resources to deliver what is required.

    Did anyone listen? Yes, I believe they did. There are definitely welcome signs of recognition and a desire to improve. Which is good to see. But there will undoubtedly be some members asking when this is going to be translated from theoretical acceptance to practical delivery? What’s frustrating this process? How long do I have to wait to see my professional body addressing the issues that are important to me? Graham Phillips’s recent letter illustrates well this frustration.

    In any organisation, internal politics can be debilitating, resources stretched and finances constraining. But only if you allow them to be. Prioritisation is absolutely key, and the ability to be flexible in response to external events is essential. Strategic plans are important, but short term delivery is even more so. I genuinely believe in the good intentions of those leading and supporting the RPS, but Mr Phillips’s letter is compelling in its description of an organisation which needs to prioritise.

    Whilst the “hand washing” campaign to which he refers has undoubtedly been influential in reducing the spread of infection, and is an important public health message, the fact is that community pharmacist members are experiencing unprecedented pressures. The most enormous challenges being faced for generations by such a large section of the membership must take priority right now. However tempting and worthy it may be to take the lead on matters of public health, there are many proponents and available resources elsewhere.

    There is a time and a place for everything, and, right now, focussing the finite resources of the RPS to lobby and advocate vociferously in support of its community pharmacist members to deliver a financially viable and sustainable high quality professional service for patients is surely its raison d’être.

    The membership is the lifeblood of the RPS. The imperative is not only to recognise this indisputable fact, but to respect and support it. To take accountability and to demonstrate the strong leadership it is more than capable of. The RPS is exceptionally well placed to play a pivotal role, and should have the confidence to act. Before it’s too late.

    Steve Churton, Past-President RPSGB

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