The RPS – failing to lead, failing to learn
Our professional leadership body once again finds itself on the back foot and under attack from a membership that feels disengaged and perceives it as opaque and secretive, says Mohammed Hussain…
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society finds itself on the back foot and under attack from a membership that feels disengaged and perceives it as opaque and even secretive. Even the majority of the elected Board members report not feeling well informed by decisions made in the Assembly.
The Assembly is the overarching governance forum of the RPS and is elected in secret by the members of the Boards. It consists of, amongst others, president Professor Claire Anderson and English Pharmacy Board chair Thorrun Govind.
Members say they want more face-to-face engagement, but the RPS has disbanded its local forums, creating instead huge regions that, for example, include Bradford and Newcastle in the same area.
The Board and Assembly meetings are infrequent, and the time in between is too long for meaningful engagement. The meetings are not an effective forum: the views of the Welsh and Scottish Boards are under-represented, too many agenda items are held in closed sessions and so withheld from member scrutiny.
The RPS in Scotland Twitter account tweeted a major announcement on a new Scottish Pharmacy Board, but the RPS Twitter account has not shared or amplified this message.
These are not my complaints, although I have raised nearly all these criticisms before and been told, in turn, that these criticisms are not fair. But these criticisms have been validated by an external organisation. The Luther Pendragon independent review of member participation and RPS communications made 28 recommendations based across four strategic principles. RPS president Anderson, said the review “made tough reading.”
It lays bare the strategic failure of the RPS leadership over the past decade. It is an organisation that has squandered the goodwill of the pharmacy profession. It has lost thousands of members each year, so many that the RPS refuses to reveal its membership numbers, treating them as a trade secret, when it should instead accept its failures and engage with the membership to rectify them.
The RPS says it is there to represent the pharmacy profession, but even its executive leadership does not represent the profession, with a non-pharmacist majority leadership team and the chief executive as the only remaining pharmacist.
The RPS, having received this damning report on its poor communications and lack of transparency, then announced in a submission to the UK Commission on Pharmacy Professional Leadership, that it wished to represent pharmacy technicians as well as pharmacists.
This move that probably looked like strategic brilliance from the RPS leadership team’s perspective, but even before they could toast their own genius in proposing to annexe the 70-year Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK (APTUK), the plan came crashing down.
The RPS had learnt nothing from its hat-trick of bad decisions earlier this year and made the announcement without consulting APTUK or any of its own members on this significant proposal. This forced an immediate reaction from APTUK to articulate for their own independence and the need for professional autonomy.
A Twitter storm of protest from pharmacists and technicians alike followed. Once again, the RPS had swerved dramatically in its policy direction, like a runaway train trying to lose its last few passengers.
The normally vocal Govind has maintained a resilient silence over both the ambition to represent pharmacy technicians and the Pendragon review. As both the chair and president are Assembly members, one would assume both had been involved in the decisions.
Like all good conspiracies, it’s the cover-up that is more damaging than the act itself. The decision to try and keep major decisions a secret and not inform the membership reveals the culture of the organisation. The International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) exit decision was made by this Assembly, including the chairs of the Boards, and this was exposed by the previous president in a tweet.
The decision to remove the Membership Experience and the Education and Training Director roles was exposed in the pharmacy media. The decision to quietly drop the ambition to become a Royal College was another major strategic faux pas made by this Assembly and was not communicated to the members in advance.
To lose two pharmacist directors wilfully was bad enough, but a third, perhaps seeing the careering and haphazard strategy combined with poor execution, decided to vote with his feet. The director for England left the organisation to take up a chief pharmacist role in secondary care.
To top it all, collective responsibility is disintegrating. The RPS stated that it had left the FIP due financial concerns, however both the chair and president turned up at the FIP conference in Seville recently. The chair of the EPB has been actively liking tweets arguing against the pharmacy technician representation proposal from the RPS.
Pharmacy politics, like party politics, is a brutal and disingenuous place. Ultimately, we get the leaders we deserve and not the leaders we need.
Declaration – I’m an honorary member of APTUK as well as a Fellow of the RPS.
Mohammed Hussain is an independent contractor and non-executive director of Bradford Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust.