The report of the independent inquiry into a new professional body for pharmacy, chaired by Nigel Clarke and commissioned by the Royal Pharmaceutical
Society of Great Britain, has concluded that an effective professional body is essential “in the interests of both the profession and the public” and that it should be operational by 2010, alongside the new regulatory body, the General Pharmaceutical Council.

The move to set up a new professional body and a separate regulator of pharmacy - marking the first time the regulatory ‘policing’ function will be split from the wider professional support role since 1933 - has been spurred, in part, by ever-growing public demands for safety and service improvement as well as the government’s white paper Trust, Assurance and Safety - The Regulation of Healthcare Professionals in the 21st Century.

The Clarke Inquiry, which undertook a wide-ranging consultation exercise with the pharmacy profession between November and February, was tasked with evaluating the possible options for a new professional leadership body for pharmacy while providing the profession with a platform to discuss all the wider issues of such a move.

According to the inquiry’s findings, a central theme that came up time and time again in discussions with the profession was that pharmacists view the creation of a new professional body as “an opportunity for a radical change in culture”, and “they want a member-facing organisation that will demonstrate that it can add value to their professional lives”.

The report makes several recommendations for which shape the new body should take, but, in the first instance, stresses that it is essential that it provide clear leadership to the profession as well as services support members’ work, fostering the highest standards of practice. It should also represent the profession to patients, the public, healthcare professionals and the devolved administrations and, “in all cases, it must be a trusted source of information and advice”.

Furthermore, it advises that the new body should “embrace not only pharmacists, but the whole of the ‘pharmacy family’, with registered pharmacists at the core but other member types, such as non-practising and retired pharmacists, academics and pharmaceutical scientists, for example, included as well.

In terms of its structure, the professional body should be built upon the existing RPSGB, it says, with council representatives from enhanced National Boards for England, Scotland and Wales, as well as representation from pharmacists in the community and hospitals, science and academia, and technicians and special interest groups within the profession.

Clarke has also recommended that, in order to facilitate the birth of such a new body, the RPSGB should set up a Transitional Committee to help ensure that the new body is operational alongside the General Pharmacy Council in January 2010.

‘Great opportunity’
“This represents a time of great opportunity for pharmacists,” said Clarke. “It is a moment when the RPSGB can take the experience it has built over its distinguished 167 years and use it to fashion a reinvigorated professional body, which can support its members and the public in a more dynamic way than has been possible in recent times”.

“All this is occurring at a time when the role of pharmacy within healthcare systems in the UK is changing quickly,” he went on to say. “Patients and the public, and indeed other healthcare professionals, have great need of the expertise that pharmacists supply. Safe and effective use of medicines is an essential part of good care.”

Commenting on the inquiry’s findings, the RPSGB said its Council endorses the broad terms of the report and will discuss it in detail on April 23 and 24 with a view to publishing a full response in early May. “It is an exciting time for the profession and we look forward to working with other bodies to bring plans for the new organisation to fruition,” said the Society’s President, Hemant Patel.