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Supporting professional aspirations: a new body for pharmacists


With the RPSGB losing its regulatory function, a past president sees a great opportunity to make a professional body in a new mould …

Gill Hawksworth

Past President

Royal Pharmaceutical
Society of Great Britain

College of Pharmacy Practice

Teacher Practitioner
University of Bradford

Visiting Professor of Pharmacy
University of Huddersfield

There is now a unique opportunity to build a dynamic new professional body for pharmacy in the UK. Our focus now must be on leadership for the pharmacy profession, to enable it to realise its professional aspirations and to deliver the best possible service to patients and the public.

All pharmacists in the UK have been closely watching developments following the April publication of the inquiry into a professional body for pharmacy, led by Nigel Clarke, which had been commissioned by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) in August 2007.[1]

This inquiry followed publication of the government’s white paper on the regulation of healthcare professionals in the 21st century,[2] which had signalled the separation of regulation of the profession and the creation of the new regulatory body for pharmacy, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). Pharmacists were asked to respond to the inquiry by giving evidence directly or by written submission. Representation came not just from individuals but also from many professional bodies,
including those representing hospital pharmacy, such as the UK Clinical Pharmacy Association (UKCPA) and the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists, as well as the RPSGB. In addition, evidence was provided by organisations with a long history in education and continuing professional development (CPD), such as the College of Pharmacy Practice (CPP).

There was significant unanimity among pharmacists. It was found that pharmacists felt that the demands imposed on the RPSGB by its regulatory role had conflicted with the organisation’s role in CPD, to the detriment of the latter.

Respondents considered it important to include the term “Royal” in any new body’s name, and considered that the body should be “member-facing” in terms of meeting members’ needs and professional challenges. Importantly, the body should be perceived as new. However, it should not act as an exclusive membership club, but rather appeal to the majority of the profession for its membership, as well as to leading-edge practitioners. This way it would earn the respect of government, regulator and public, demonstrating authority in statements
based on sound evidence.

The purpose and focus of the new body would be leadership, in both practice and science, with membership support. It should act as an advocate for the public: patient safety should be at its heart, because safe and effective use of medicines is vital. Membership categories would include GPhC-registered pharmacists, non-practising and retired pharmacists, undergraduate and preregistration students, pharmaceutical scientists, academics, international applicants and GPhC-registered technicians. It is envisaged that this body would provide a forum for prescribers, develop members’ leadership skills and provide a single voice and vision for pharmacy, developing communication internally, externally,
internationally and interprofessionally.

Through commissioning research, the body would ensure that daily practice and advice to patients was informed by up-to-date scientific opinion. However, a very important core function would be to set professional and ethical standards, with close collaboration on the undergraduate curriculum between the GPhC and the higher-education sector. This would support
preregistration trainees and tutors and play a valuable role in education, including CPD accreditation. It would be important to include systems to allow members to assess competence, with provision of remedial support plus the development of standards for revalidation. However, the body would not have a policing role and would take into account the devolution of the constituent countries of the UK. The idea of national boards was
supported, with representation by election ensuring a presence on the part of the hospital sector.

A committee or board of special-interest groups has been proposed. This would act as the guardian of specialist and advanced practice UK-wide, taking the lead in encouraging research, with links to higher-education institutions and providing a structure to allow the demonstration of competence for advanced, consultant and fellowship status. This would provide distinctive leadership.

It would be important to distinguish between practising in a specialty and practising at a higher level, and the board should deal with both. Assessment should be competency-based and standardised across all specialists and throughout the UK. The CPP and its faculties already have a model for this based on the framework of the Competency Development and Evaluation Group (CoDEG) – a collaborative network of pharmacists,
developers, researchers and practitioners in the UK. This assesses competence over a wide range of levels, recognised by the college through its titles of “Member”, “Advanced Member” and “Fellow”.

The board of special-interest groups must have credibility and academic rigour, and the involvement of recognised clinical and academic specialists would be essential. It would also be important to engage employers and their representative organisations.

The RPSGB is to set up a transitional committee – with an independent chair (Nigel Clarke) – to oversee the process of preparing the new body. Although the final composition is not defined at the time of writing, it could include representatives from all major bodies that have expressed an interest in participating. This committee will produce a prospectus for the new professional body; the target date for becoming operational will likely be 2010, in line with the new GPhC.


Interested parties have been brought together via the Waterloo Group – a network of motivated and energetic pharmacy bodies convened by the CPP – which has been driving a debate about how representation will be established on the transitional committee. This group envisages that there will be one representative from each major body that has expressed an interest in joining or working with the new body, with smaller
member organisations forming natural alliances and choosing from their number three or four individuals to look after their interests. Many of these bodies have chosen to set up advisory groups to support members who will represent them. It was originally proposed by the Waterloo Group that individual seats on the committee should be held by the CPP, the UKCPA, the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association and the
Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK; additionally, the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists, which represents employees in the NHS, should have a place alongside the Parenteral Drug Association, the Company Chemists Association, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee and the National Pharmacy Association.

Whatever the final makeup of the committee, it is imperative that the Waterloo Group and the RPSGB work together effectively to establish this transitional committee to ensure the process demonstrates credibility and validity to potential members, whether specialist or generalist. It is also important that the majority of the profession is attracted to join and that there is recognition of general level (or level 1) of practice, as distinct from advanced practice, which is, for example, in the
community developing as Pharmacists with a Special Interest. With the publication of the recent pharmacy white paper there are immense opportunities to set up a focused and relevant professional leadership body. There is a need to integrate education and practice, and to increase the number of pharmacists engaged in the change required for pharmacy to become a clinical profession with prescribing as a core component, and with defined advanced practice. This will prepare pharmacists for revalidation as the GPhC becomes established.

Pharmacy is a profession waiting to embrace excellence. For this we must harness the energy of all forward-thinking pharmacists, young and old, and from all sectors, who have something to offer the process.

We owe it to our patients; and there can be no better reason than that.

1. Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. Report of the independent inquiry into a professional body for pharmacy. London: RPSGB; 2008.
2. Secretary of State for Health. Trust, assurance and safety: the regulation of healthcare professionals in the 21st century. London: The Stationery Office; 2007.

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