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For whom the “Bells” toll

“Perchance he for whom the bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him.”

John Donne (1572-1631)

“WHEN (in 1798) John Bell opened the doors of his unpretentious shop in London’s West End, he knew its importance for his own career; but he would never become aware of its wider significance.” So writes social historian Sydney Holloway in his well-researched history Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, 1841–1991, A Political & Social History (The Pharmaceutical Press, London, 1991).

John Bell’s diligence helped him develop his small shop in Oxford Street into one of London’s most significant retail businesses of its time. Today, all pharmacists should be indebted to John Bell and his son Jacob Bell, who used the wealth created by his father’s business to found and advance the interests of the Pharmaceutical Society.

The early Society

For those who wish to learn about the members who shaped the early years of our Society, Mr Holloway paints a fascinating picture of the trials, tribulations and accomplishments of the first 150 years. The issues then were different but no less challenging than at present, and involved the usual political battles with other healthcare professionals and successive governments.

In the mid 19th Century, during the first 18 years of the Pharmaceutical Society, Jacob Bell was at the heart of robust debates about its future, which led in part to the Pharmacy Act of 1852. He was deeply disappointed in the Act; nevertheless, it strengthened the position of the Pharmaceutical Society considerably.

Jacob Bell was President of the Society from 1856 until his death in 1859. By this time, Mr Holloway states, his vision and political reality had secured a firm foundation for the profession. Mr Holloway also provides two quotations about Mr Bell that are as relevant today as they were over 100 years ago: “Pharmacy has had few such leaders,” wrote WJ Uglow Woolcock in 1906. The Pharmaceutical Journal wrote: “The advent of such a leader is required to shake the world of pharmacy from the heavy slumber of indifference into which it tends to fall, and to stir into action those whose one cry is for protection, but who will not protect themselves.” (Pharm J, 76 (1906):280).

Follow his example and further the profession

Today it is incumbent upon each and every member of our Society to follow Jacob Bell’s example and advance the interests of the profession. Many pharmacists across all branches of the profession do so not only to create a rewarding and fulfilling career for those aspiring to join our profession but also to ensure that we continue to modernise and improve the services we provide to the public and patients.

The range and complexity of modern medicines and their combinations demand a level of pharmaceutical care which is unlikely to be delivered effectively and safely by anyone other than a specialist in the clinical use of medicines. We have the education and training to fulfil such a role.

We have evidence of pioneering prescribing pharmacists already practising and developing their clinical experience, providing direct patient care in domiciliary settings, community pharmacies, GP surgeries and hospitals. Taking the lead from these innovative practitioners, the profession as a whole now needs to commit to this evolving clinical direction of travel.

We need to persuade the minority of less progressive members of our profession that they are not supporting our professional interests or the interests of patients by protecting some of pharmacy’s traditional functions and roles. We simply cannot afford to continue to hang on to the clinical coat tails of the medical profession, or to succumb as redundant victims of rapidly evolving new technologies. Nearly 150 years ago, William E Gladstone (1809–1898) encapsulated the advice we need now when he said: “You cannot fight against the future…”


Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20065766

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