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Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Breaking the cycle: the number of candidates for RPS national board elections needs to increase, as does the number of voters

Unless more members stand for RPS board elections, voter turnout is likely to remain low.

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In 2015, 11.7% of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s (RPS) members voted to appoint 3 out of 12 candidates to the English Pharmacy Board, the RPS committee in England that decides on the professional body’s policy. Despite being a marginally higher turnout than the year before (9.3%), it was still a low level of engagement in a process that can influence the future of the Society. Now, with just a few weeks to go until nominations open for 2016, members are being called on to put themselves forward as candidates.

The national board elections may not interest everyone, and the low voter turnout is not indicative of engagement with the RPS as a whole. Many members find the most value from their membership in areas such as professional support and publications, including The Pharmaceutical Journal. But the RPS as a whole wants more members to be engaged in its governance. This begins with more members voting, but leads to empowering members who may feel they have something to contribute to the Society to stand for a seat on one of the boards. Members need to know it is possible to represent the needs of pharmacists at national board level.

The results of a survey sent out by The Pharmaceutical Journal in January 2016 show there are various reasons why RPS members choose not to vote. Many wanted more information about the candidates in the run up to the elections to inform their decision, while others opted not to vote because they did not feel the Society was doing enough to tackle challenges faced by pharmacists.

But for the national boards to deliver what members need, there must be a better connection between them. The boards need to be representative of all areas of pharmacy and members need to engage with the election process to achieve this.

“The health of the pharmacy profession is based on the diversity in the profession, the need to be collaborative, the quality of the election process and on those who take part either by standing or voting,” says Sid Dajani, treasurer of the English Pharmacy Board.

The figures from similar organisations put the turnout for the RPS elections — with about 30,000 members who are eligible to vote — into perspective. In the 2015 elections for council members at the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), 20% of its 50,000 members voted. However, the RCGP has previously had turnouts as low as 7% as a result of moving too quickly to an electronic voting system. The Royal College of Nursing had even fewer members vote, with 5.5% of its 430,000-wide membership voting in its annual council elections in 2015. This was comparable with its election in 2013, but lower than in 2011. Similarly, the fluctuation occurred because of a change in how members voted.

There is no doubt that many RPS members will have felt angry or exhausted at some point in their careers with the pressure they face on a daily basis, and they may even feel that nothing will ever change. But the Society elections provide an opportunity for members to be part of a driver for change. It is also worth noting that the RPS remunerates board members for their time, in both preparation for meetings and attending meetings, and covering any reasonable expenses, which ensures no board members are out of pocket.

Employers also have a role to play in encouraging staff members to run for elections because it will not only benefit the individual’s career but has the potential to make a difference to the professional body.

In recent years, several candidates have been elected unopposed because of a lack of willingness among members to put themselves forward. Although these individuals may be passionately committed to pharmacy, this negates the point of having a democratic process. In times such as these when unsettling changes are on the horizon (the 6% funding cut to community pharmacy is probably just the tip of the iceberg), it is vital that pharmacists stand together and have a united voice. We cannot continue the downward spiral of a low diversity of candidates standing for election, leading to a disengaged membership and a low voter turnout.

Whether or not you choose to stand for election, make sure you exercise your right to vote. For the RPS to represent all areas of pharmacy, it is up to all members to play their part.

Nominations for the national board elections open on 27 February and close on 1 April 2016. To find out more about the national boards, visit www.rpharms.com/about-us/how-we-are-governed.asp and contact the governance manager, Alison Douglas (alison.douglas@rpharms.com), if you want to find out more about becoming an election candidate. RPS members can vote for the nominated candidates from 5–27 May 2016. The results will be announced in the week commencing 31 May 2016.

Members, Fellows and overseas members are entitled to vote in the RPS national pharmacy board elections. Associate members, including preregistration trainees, students and pharmaceutical scientists, are not. 

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2016.20200716

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