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The editor answers some of the questions still being posed online about professional leadership and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society

By Rob Darracott

The debate about the purpose of the Commission on Professional Leadership continues. According to social media, there is still confusion about what a Royal College is and why one for pharmacists might be a good idea. People are also asking when, or even whether, the RPS (or its predecessor RPSGB) adopted the ambition to develop the professional leadership body as a Royal College at all.

An old friend approached me about this conundrum. While the Royal College was a ‘tried and tested’ model, they said, they were struggling to understand how it might apply to pharmacy. They assumed the devil was in the detail but were concerned that Royal Colleges were ‘elitist’. Here’s my, slightly modified, names removed to protect the innocent, reply. 

“There have been many times when the aspirations of the many are frustrated by the wishes of some to ensure everyone can achieve. Interestingly, [x] was saying last night that the greatest frustration was that logical, sensible decisions to move members forward as a whole, often break down because someone, somewhere, may be disadvantaged or take a contrary view. This appeal to the lowest common denominator is ‘representative’ in the sense of ‘no-one left behind’, but it is not ‘leadership’.  

 “In a real leadership body, the vision is set, with input from anyone who wants it. The board, council or trustees task the executive with implementation, with establishing and providing support for career and leadership development for individuals, while being brutally honest to the five to 10 per cent who do not want to achieve any kind of progress.

“It does not say, as the RPSGB did in 1999 at the end of Pharmacy in a New Age – the largest exercise in democratic vision setting in my professional lifetime – ‘over to you’, because to do more would be an organisational challenge, or because it might cost more; real support mechanisms of the kind provided by the medical Royal Colleges and by the Royal College of Nursing in its charitable status, non-trade union, half, don’t come cheap.

“This kind of leadership represents the profession in its aspirations for better things, using the levers of scholarship, excellence, role models and research, to provide an authoritative ‘voice’ that ‘represents’ pharmacy, pharmacists and excellence in understanding of medicines and their effects. It draws lines in the sand, sets timeframes and does not tolerate outdated ways of working or lack of professional commitment (including to perpetual change).

 “So why might pharmacy need a body like this? Because every other pharmacy organisation needs its activities to be set in an atmosphere where the role for the profession itself is clear, established, promoted effectively and thereby recognised by external stakeholders, be they a trade body, a negotiator, a defence association or government.” 

I first wrote that on 22 March 2007. I think it still works.  

PS: The report of the Engaging to transform the profession meeting attended by 44 pharmacy organisations on 30 April 2007 contains the following sentences: “The Society [RPSGB] has pledged to work with the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland and other pharmacy organisations to support the development of a Royal College. It is recognised there is widespread enthusiasm for such a body to support and lead the pharmacy profession.”

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