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Onlooker considers regulation in Northern Ireland


Onlooker considers regulation in Northern Ireland

An Onlooker's Notebook


A note caught my eye in the new NPA section of ICP to the effect that there is an official consultation in progress on the future of pharmacy regulation in Northern Ireland (ICP May, p49). Unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, regulation and professional representation are still carried out by the same body in the country – namely the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland. The PSNI has so far escaped the fate of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which had its regulatory role wrested from it when the General Pharmaceutical Council was formed in 2010.

I say “escaped the fate” in a loose sense, since the PSNI had its representative role heavily compromised in 2012 when its president and its council, including half drawn from the profession, became public appointees. In an attempt to redress the balance, the professional representation side of things has been looked after since 2103 by a subsidiary body within the PSNI – the Pharmacy Forum. The forum has its own board and a degree of democracy in that most of its members are elected; other members include representatives drawn from pharmacy bodies in the country. However, the forum remains an integral part of the PSNI and its resources are dependent on that body. The same type of situation exists, incidentally, south of the border in the republic, with the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland.

The consultation document makes it clear that the NI Health Minister has agreed in principal to the split and the main question is whether there should be a separate regulatory body for Northern Ireland or whether regulation there should be taken on by the General Pharmaceutical Council. The consultation document seems to favour the latter approach. The issue of professional representation (about which the forum has issued its own consultation document to members) is to be dealt with separately by the profession.

If the NI government does decide on a local solution, I hope it does not purloin the PSNI name. It would be better for the country to reflect the situation in the rest of the UK, where the RPS has retained the representative role and a new name has been found for the regulatory body.

One thing seems certain, though, and that is that there will be a separate professional representative body in the province. The forum consultation document makes it clear that representation needs to be pursued with vigour and that it should be locally based. Whether there will be the resources needed for that is open to question.

If experience in Great Britain is a guide, universal membership will not be achieved among the 2,000 or so pharmacists in the country. Alliances will have to be built and smart ways of working found. The forum has an ominous warning, though: if the challenge is not met [to fund a leadership body] pharmacists will rely heavily on regulatory standards rather than best practice and development to promote care for patients. And if there is one thing that the GPhC has shown – an inspirational and aspirational body it ain’t.


There has been a bit of fuss lately about Boots’ pharmacists being pressurised into doing unnecessary medicines use reviews in order to meet targets set by management – something that Boots denies. I don’t know who is right and who is wrong in this, but it seems a bit rich that, at a time when pharmacists are being told they need to be more clinical, they get it in the neck when they are.


We sometimes have to take our own medicines for minor ailments and one such for me over the years has been Aspro Clear – an elegant, effervescent soluble aspirin preparation, particularly useful as a gargle for a sore throat. I was disappointed when it was discontinued. I assumed that if it was discontinued here it would be discontinued everywhere. But, no: I can buy it in Australia, where I often go for family reasons. And where is the Oz product made? France. Can I buy it in France? No. All a bit of a mystery.

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