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The Pharmaceutical Journal
Vol 269 No 7213 p278-281
31 August 2002

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Letters to the Editor

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The Society

Who is running the place?

Governance over democracy

Who is running the place?

From Mr D. I. Simpson, FRPharmS

You urge members to shake off their consultation fatigue and make their views known on the future of the Society (PJ, August 17, p202). That is a reasonable sentiment. But the problem is that those in control of the modernisation process do not seem to take the slightest notice of anything that members say. I have pointed out on several occasions — the last time being in a letter published in the 10 August issue (p190) — that it is wrong to claim that regulatory functions as defined by Kennedy represent the large majority of the Society's activities, and yet the same myth is repeated in an unsigned article from the "Society" in the PJ this week.

Time without number have members pointed out that the Society is a hybrid body with representational and regulatory functions, yet the latest consultation document on Council elections and membership (included in the 10 August issue) compares the Council only with the governing bodies of regulators.

One telling observation that can only be made by readers of the Chemist & Druggist (which has also published the Society's article) is that the same inappropriate word has been used in the article as in the recent letter from the chief pharmacist (PJ, August 3, p158). The chief pharmacist says that while the Council could delegate tasks it could not "abrogate" responsibility for them. The "Society" article, as published by the Chemist & Druggist, says: "The Council cannot abrogate its responsibilities by delegating them away." So it is now abundantly clear to me, if it was not before, that the modernisers are in cahoots with the Department of Health. (In the PJ article "abrogate", which means annul, has been edited to the more appropriate "abdicate".)

One further point — the article is represented as the Society's response to a statement put out by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, the National Pharmaceutical Association and the Young Pharmacists Group. How can it be the Society's response? The only decision that the Council has made so far is that the Society should continue as a representative and regulatory body. Who exactly is deciding policy nowadays?

Apropos, Mr Mallinson's apologia for the Modernisation Steering Group last week (PJ, 24 August, p249), it would have been helpful if he had made it clear that he was a member of that self-same group. Mr Mallinson claims that people who held positions of authority within the Society quickly lose touch when no longer in office. I hope that does not apply to him, following his failure to gain re-election to the Society's Scottish Executive (PJ, 29 June, p936).

Douglas Simpson
Beckenham, Kent

Governance over democracy

From Mr J. R. Martin, MRPharmS, and others

We notice from the pull out section in your issue of 10 August that the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's Modernisation Steering Group proposes under Section 8.1 that the current "voluntary" code of conduct for Council members becomes compulsory. This would give the Council the power to remove from their properly elected position any member who refused to sign the code.

We have used inverted commas around the word "voluntary" because we notice on p199 of the same issue that Sultan Dajani has decided that he has had to sign the code in order to be allowed to carry out large elements of the position to which he was elected. The Council has stopped him effectively representing the members that elected him. His freedom of speech has been to all intents and purposes suppressed; that the Council should wish to cause that is a worrying sign.

The steering group proposes to allow the Council not only to bind Council members to the code, but also to remove any who are believed to be "hindering" the work of the Council. Presumably anyone who ventures a difference of opinion and so causes debate or any slowing up of, or moderation of, the latest imposition from any steering groups, committees, or Council (presenting its otherwise unified front) could be labelled a hindrance.

The steering group and the Council would quote corporate governance as the necessary driving force behind this proposal; however, in this case it would come at the expense of democracy within the profession. No one wishing to put forward a new or different view to the current incumbents would bother to stand for election as they would be removed as soon as they attempted to make those changes. No radical member, having been elected to the Council, would be able to represent their electorate. This code would be yet another move away from the representation of pharmacists by the Council and towards their regulation. If anyone doubts this scenario, simply look at the Council's current handling of the "voluntary" code which has been swift, drastic and without appeal.

Sadly, both history and biology tell us that any organism or organisation which cannot respond to external change when it occurs, dies. We would be sad to see the profession of pharmacy go that way. The only acceptable and sustainable policy for a continued democratic Society is to allow each member to state their positions and opinions without censure or hindrance from the Society. Similarly, once elected, they must be allowed into all the positions open to any elected Council member and not prevented by other members who have no more mandate than any other.

Jonathan Martin
Wallingford, Oxfordshire

Nigel Simmons
Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

John Young
Cumbernauld, Lanarkshire

Peter Schofield

Barbara Martin

Yvonne Coats

Maurice Hickey
Forres, Moray

Anne Mishon
Laurac le Grand, France

Andrew J. Williamson
Campbeltown, Argyll

Martin Bennett

Christina Lowe

Michael Embrey
Chorley, Lancashire

Mike Williams
Solihull, West Midlands

Tony Schofield
Jarrow, Tyne and Wear

Gavin Miller
Secretary, Young Pharmacists Group

Noel Wicks
President, YPG

Michael Embrey
Vice-Chairman, YPG

Mark Walker
Treasurer, YPG

Jahn Dad Khan
Working Parties Co-ordinator, YPG

Dean Rhodes

Tricia Summers
Tiverton, Devon


ANN LEWIS, Secretary and Registrar, Royal Pharmaceutical Society, replies:

The Council's code of conduct was introduced in April 2000. Such codes are a normal requirement for bodies such as the Society that perform functions of a public nature. From the outset, the Council's intention was that the code, although initially introduced on a voluntary basis, would be incorporated into the Byelaws once it had been informed by experience, and become compulsory (PJ, 20 May 2000, pp752?55). This proposal is not new. The Modernisation Steering Group, in its discussion paper on elections and Council membership, is simply seeking views on whether any further changes are needed to the ways in which Council members may be removed from office beyond the provision of a mandatory code of conduct.

Your correspondents' concerns focus on the ability of a Council member to express his or her views when these differ from Council policy. The Council's code of conduct makes provision for this while also ensuring that Council members explain the reasons for their collective decisions. Again, this is not new: it is the incorporation of the long-established "Guthrie convention" into the code.

The Society recognises that an organisation, or a profession, that cannot respond to changes in its external environment will not survive. That is why the Society is continuing to update its corporate governance framework and is undertaking a programme of reform to ensure that pharmacy has a modern, effective regulatory and professional body, able to continue to meet its responsibilities to the public and the profession.

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