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Time for a real change

By Rob Darracott

Between 1868 and 1902 this country had 10 Prime Ministers. Or rather it had four, who took it in turns to run the show. William Gladstone had four goes at it, and the Marquess of Salisbury three.  The Earl of Rosebery’s 15 months in 1894-5 looks like an aberration, a bit like Benjamin Disraeli’s first of two stays in Number Ten, for 10 months in 1868. 

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society is the same. In the past 15 years only four men have held the role of president of the RPS (RPSGB before 2010), sharing the chain like a game of pass the parcel after a few hands of bridge. In most representative learned bodies, the top job tends to be a once in a lifetime accolade; you might get a second year if you were exceptional, or tricky times genuinely required continuity over precedent. So with rumours circulating that at least two of the four fancy yet another go in the top job, it’s time to ask: is that really the best we can do?

It’s not as if the four have offered anything very different. All have/had community pharmacy backgrounds. All have been members of the English Pharmacy Board; three of them still are. They are all men, in a profession where the majority of practitioners are women. So, if the rumours are accurate, is more of the same the best we can do?

You have to go back to Ann Lewis in 1995-96 to find a president whose background was not in community – a recent survey by CIG Research (page 6) found 82 per cent of respondents agreeing (54 per cent strongly) that “the RPS no longer serves the needs of community pharmacy”. Even when it's been led by one or another for the last 23 years. So, is another year with a community pharmacist as president, especially one who’s already had at least one go at it, really the best the RPS can do? 

Cuts in England apart, it’s exciting times for pharmacy. New roles all over the shop. Consultants in primary care, A&E, pharmacists in general practice, prescribers everywhere. Exciting developments in community pharmacy too here and there. In England, home of the last seven presidents, the current focus is on wider primary care, and putting pharmacists’ skills into general practice. And though some of it has been a bit over-hyped, community colleagues in Scotland and Wales seem very much part of Government thinking, with programmes of development in hand. With such diversity of practice across the UK, would another year of leadership rooted in community pharmacy in England be the best the three nation RPS can do in 2019?

At least this year’s National Board elections injected more new blood into the Society’s leadership veins than there has been for some years. If you’re good enough, you’re experienced enough in my book, so I’d like to see any or all of the following happen when the Assembly meets later this month: the first female president of the RPS since 2004; the first non-England based president of the RPS since 2001; or the first non-community pharmacy president since 1996.

There are more than a few well qualified candidates to choose from in the selective nomination pool that is the RPS’s national boards. So I say to the even smaller selectorate that is the RPS Assembly: to pick from the bridge club again would not be the best you can do, given the work that needs to be done. You’ve got nothing to lose but a bit more credibility, and everything to gain from a real change.

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