By Professor Mahendra Patel 

As a member of the UK Commission on Pharmacy Professional Leadership, and deputy chair of the Leadership, Policy and Professionalism Working Group, I’ve found it to be an infectiously fascinating and truly worthwhile programme of work.

I’ve been meaning to share some of my personal views and thoughts for some time around the Commission and its work, and especially now that the report is now public.

I’d be dismissive of the truth if I didn’t acknowledge the declining interest and the clear disengagement of colleagues with our professional leadership body. Worryingly, this has become even more apparent in recent times than in previous years. Being a founding member and ardent supporter of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), it’s naturally upsetting to take in.

I’ve been a devoted and committed national board member of the RPS for many years, as well as a member of the assembly and Treasurer. As a consequence, I feel I’m relatively well versed around understanding the workings of the RPS. Through this privileged insight I’m proud to shout out and loudly, that absolutely yes, the RPS has done so much amazing work over the years, and continues to do so – benefiting so many and across different sectors and age groups.

However, as we all know in general there will always be room for improvement, but in the case of our professional leadership body perhaps this could even mean radical improvement in some instances requiring changes to governance.

  • We need to identify and encourage leaders with a high skill-set, clear pedigree and gravitas, and who are passionate and selfless about taking the profession forward, to come to the helm more. They should themselves have a proven track record of successful leadership roles within their own organisations.
  • We must not rely solely upon an election system in choosing our leaders, nor on one whose primary entry criteria is membership of the professional body. Election results are clearly not representative of the membership with regularly much less than 10 per cent of members voting – in the opinion of many driven by popularity rather than substance. My litmus test as a minimum standard for anyone standing as a national board member, let alone standing for any office-bearing positions, is to gauge how successful they may be if they were, for example, applying for a senior non-executive position at, for example, a hospital trust, corporate organisation, charitable organisation, or equivalent in other settings. I must confess that when I started as an RPS board member I would have failed and dare I say quite miserably.
  • We need to build a cultural change in mindset — believing that pharmacy actually means pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, who have in many ways and for too long been ignored.

So it’s welcoming, and perhaps not even surprising, to see the Chief Pharmaceutical Officers (CPhOs) from all four devolved nations coming together to commission the work on pharmacy professional leadership during perceivably the most important times in the history of the NHS – when all resources and capacity have been challenged to the fullest and beyond.

Frankly, when we first started the Commission work I genuinely didn’t believe that we’d ever get to conclude the work within the timeframe and at the pace it did, and the depth and breadth that it covered. Also, to emphasise, that it was as representative as practically possible under the circumstances, with vast amounts of evidence gathered through the numerous webinars, discussions and debates across the four nations and from all corners of pharmacy, including those on the ground – where it really matters. I believe pharmacy has over 150 organisations, which depicts the scale of the task in hand.

Additionally, growing this wealth of evidence has been so well supported by the depth of knowledge and experience shared by all the members of the five working groups, and coming together as a whole Commission at various points in an open and collaborative manner. The driving force came from the relentless efforts of the two independent chairs. They synergistically and seemingly effortlessly combined in bringing their own individual expertise and knowledge as leaders to the forefront. I saw them as being wholly independent throughout the process! Something to learn from for many perhaps, and not least myself!

The Commission’s recommendations are certainly exciting and realistic; refreshing and rejuvenating—appealing and inviting – inclusive and collaborative, all with a view to bringing huge opportunities for the devoted to be able to influence at the highest levels for the right reasons and the right causes.

As a seasoned academic and building on a highly successful community pharmacy background, I’m delighted to see that science, education, research, and practice can all come together on one platform, and having an equal and authoritative voice for pharmacy. Furthermore, the Commission report recognises the opportunities in building on the amazing international reputation of our professional body, one that I’ve personally witnessed whilst actively promoting the RPS and its resources when working with countries such as Lebanon, Morocco, India, Portugal, China, and the USA. It also made me appreciate more how much value the royal status itself carries internationally. We must truly capitalise on these opportunities.

In terms of where we are now, we need to drive the professions forward with passion and commitment, embrace change, and take advantage of the new and emerging roles in pharmacy, for the betterment of patient care not just for today but also for the future, and not just nationally but also internationally. Moreover, we must closely align with all the devolved nations through their own aims and objectives on a seamless basis.

The next steps of the Commission’s recommendations, from what I’ve seen and heard to date, are creating encouraging interest from various corners of the professions and age groups. The independent appointment of the transitional, advisory Pharmacy Leadership Council Chair by the CPhOs and, following on from this, its members is certainly something to watch out for, as is the duty to collaborate in ensuring one cohesive voice. I still think there should be some role for the current independent chairs during the transition –

What a waste it would be to lose that excellent resource. Separate to that, I personally would like to see some big gun from the medical profession (or equivalent) leading the Council – what a coup that would be in terms of how our leadership body would be perceived externally and be better accepted by the medical profession and not just by our own.

It seems we are yet to be informed about any of the details beyond the CPhOs saying they are developing options and will work collaboratively on the next steps. I’m confident that there will be transparency throughout these steps, which is crucial for respect and trust to be maintained – something that appears to be fading when it comes to our current professional leadership body.

So to restore confidence and to revive interest and excitement amongst all our pharmacy colleagues, it’s vital we come together through the federated model and work together in harmony, in an authoritative, collaborative, and inclusive manner.

I agree it’s a gigantic task in bringing everything to fruition in good time, and not least in securing the funding to support and implement the recommendations. I await with interest the twists and turns this may bring! However, it is ultimately us as the profession that will be steering the direction of travel forward and not, as some may think, the CPhOs – I think they’ve enough on as it is!!

The important thing is enabling the collaboration amongst pharmacy leadership bodies – so we have credible and authoritative leadership that is effective and speaks with one voice to Government, regulators, patients and employers. The recommendation to establish a Council is key to achieving this. The Council can then help to empower the professional bodies to shape and lead the future for our professions.

This is a one-time opportunity wherever it eventually leads to, perhaps even a royal college, who knows? So let’s do all we can to make it work for the better, wherever we take it to, and together. It’s all in our hands!

Professor Mahendra G Patel OBE is deputy chair, Leadership, Policy and Professional Working Group, UK Commission on Pharmacy Professional Leadership.


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