Monday, 23 July 2012

Media Strategy Day -

Dear Reader

I did promise to keep you informed about what I (and the Board) was doing on your behalf but at the risk of sounding like Fifty Shades of the Pharmacy Board I have to tell you that today my hands are tied. 

Some of the board members met today for a strategy meeting which focussed mainly on the media but at the outset of the meeting we were told that it was commercial in confidence. 

Actually, there weren't that many parts of the meeting which I thought were that sensitive but it is a fact that board members do have to be able to trust each other in these situations. 

So, as we all stood on a platform of increased openness I assume that this was a "one-off" and I will respect the agreement made at the beginning of the meeting. If this is not a one off then you will be informed _ and I will feel free to challenge future reporting restrictions!

Selling the Family Silver - part 2

My earlier post about the potential sale of the RPS building at Lambeth appears to have ruffled a few feathers but all I will say is that my account was factually accurate and the only people who objected were those who were not privy to the conversations I had.

But, it is only fair to add to my earlier comments following a briefing I had earlier today. As I said in my earlier blog post no decision has yet been made although the matter is up for discussion at this week's Assembly meeting. 

The situation is quite straightforward. The GPhC agreed to share the building for two years and have extended the contract to 2014 (although there will be changes with respect to the parts of the building they occupy). 

The RPS is a much leaner organisation than the old RPSGB and cannot afford to be the sole occupants of the building. The options would appear to be to try and market the space for functions, to find alternative tenants or to sell and look for more appropriate accommodation. 

I must stress that no decision has yet been made but I did notice when I came into London on the train that there is a lot of empty office space in the area so it is difficult to see how realistic it will be to find suitable tenants for the building. 

But, at the end of the day, how many pharmacists actually feel any sort of bond with the Lambeth HQ? One of the best kept secrets is that all members can use the rooftop restaurant but few members avail themselves of this facility. 

So, if the RPS can find more appropriate London based accommodation (and preferably buy it) and we can ensure that we retain the museum collection would anybody actually care? 

The old RPSGB moved from Bloomsbury in the 1970s (I think - although it may have been early 1980s) and the world didn't end. 

What's in a building? I used to do a lot of work with the NCT and they moved from pukka Bloomsbury premises to Acton and the organisation has gone from strength to strength. The ABPI has recently moved to smaller offices and at the same time has a newly invigorated profile. 

It will, however, be interesting to see what the assembly decide.........

Sunday, 22 July 2012

What is an acceptable workload for a pharmacist?

I had an 11 year gap in practice and one of the big changes is the increase in the number of unqualified staff in management positions and, in some ways, the demotion of the pharmacist to what can only be regarded as "a legal necessity". 

I was told last week that it was not unreasonable for a pharmacist to be able to check 600 prescriptions plus carry out two MURs a day and deal with NMS, counter queries, register entries etc. I work for 510 minutes a day so the checking etc has to be at the rate of less than one item a minute. I generally "cope" with this but quite a lot of pharmacists leave a lot of work to be picked up the next day and when I am one down in the dispensary not all runs as smoothly as I would like. But, if I am honest, I am not providing the sort of service I really want to and the area that is skimped on becomes the customer facing aspect of the job which is the one I like best. 

I mention this because RPS is very interested in workplace pressures and this has been identified by the Board as a priority issue. If pharmacists are stretched like this there are a number of questions to be asked. The first is to ask whether it is safe? The second is to ask how on earth new services will fit into the equation. That's before you even start to think about whether best use is being made of the pharmacist's time and skills. 

But this is not a matter for the RPS alone and the GPhC should be starting to define what is an acceptable and safe load for a community pharmacist. The PSNC should then be working to make sure that these standards are worked into the payment system. 

I would be interested to hear the views of others on this subject so please contact me on

What do board members do between meetings?

The first thing that hits you when you become a Board member is the deluge of e-mails and the forest's worth of paper that hits the doormat. At this point you are still caught up in the euphoria of winning and dealing with the paperwork is a pleasure rather than a problem. 

Bring on the first board meeting and then you start to get to know the other members of the Board. There was a lot on the agenda and, so that we could complete the business, many items had action points which weren't fully resolved and there was a commitment to sort out the detail by e-mail. Also - as there are only four EPB meetings a year then there is inevitably a certain amount of business which has to be done by e-mail. 

The number of e-mails I receive daily has increased considerably and it has been a struggle to keep up with everything. By nature my default mode is not "reply all" but others take a different view. 

It became hard to separate the wheat from the chaff and I was later than hoped in replying to a consultation or two but happily the situation has now improved, I have caught up with the backlog and am now back on track responding to things more or less the day they come in. One thing is apparent though and that is the difference between those who work at the sharp end of community pharmacy and those who work in desk based jobs, or are self employed, and who are able to reply to e-mails instantly.

So, apologies for not being more current in my blog but normal service has now been resumed. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Girls Girls Girls!

Others have commented that the gender balance of the English Pharmacy Board does not reflect the gender balance of the profession as a whole. Rachel Airley has also commented that the women on the new board are a force to be reckoned with. Let's take all that as a given. 

I want to use this post to reflect on three impressive women on the RPS staff - and before anyone whinges I will just point out that I am sure there will be other impressive women to comment on in the future. 

So, who are my top three so far?

First mention must go to Helen Gordon. Nobody has a bad word to say about her and she has certainly steered the embryonic RPS through some difficult times. I am looking forward to getting to know her better. It is a shame she is not a pharmacist but this brings me neatly to.......

Catherine Duggan. Director of Professional Development and Support at RPS. She is an interesting character and was once an elected member of the RPSGB. Her presentation to the new EPB was packed full of emerging initiatives (would love to say more but am reluctant to steal her thunder) and I can categorically state that she is the Director who impressed me the most. It may just have been the way she presented herself but she came across as a powerhouse of ideas and activity. Only ten percent of her work is visible at this point in time so I have nicknamed her "the iceberg"

Yvonne - who is the administrator to the board and works with Howard Duff, the Director for England. She is truly impressive. I e-mail her at mid-night and the reply is waiting on my BlackBerry as I roll in to work before 9 the next morning. If the reply is a holding reply I invariably have a reply in my inbox before I next log on at lunchtime. She even managed to answer my convoluted questions about the election process so it is a big thank you from me. 

So - why have I bothered to mention this?

It just struck me that it is easy to write a blog knocking the status quo and it is potentially less interesting to say who is doing a good job. It seemed only fair to put down a marker so that people do not take my other blog posts out of context. The RPS is not a perfect organisation (is there such a thing?) but many of the staff are doing a damn good job trying to make it one. All I am saying is that I may appear to knock from time to time but I also hope that I will be equally free to point out some of the good work that is going on. 

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

EPB coverage in the PJ

Over recent weeks a lot of people have expressed a degree of concern over the PJ. These concerns seem to revolve mostly around its diminishing number of pages and the fact that it appears to be printed on Izal these days (incidentally - Izal is great for cleaning flutes). 

I'm afraid the PJ didn't get off to the greatest of starts with the new board, mainly because there was scant coverage of the election results. The Editor claimed that it had "slipped her mind" but this really didn't wash because the Editorial in the post-election edition bemoaned the low election turnout. You can't have it both ways! 

Now, could it be that the low turnout is partly due to the fact that the PJ rarely seems to report anything that goes on at EPB meetings? There used to be quite detailed accounts of the old RPSGB Council meetings and, if you were desperate for more, you could always read the transcripts online.  There are no longer transcripts of meetings and no PJ reports so, despite the improved openness of the meetings (I was horrified when I attended a meeting as an observer in 2001 only to find that a lot of the business was not open) the information flowing to the members is greatly reduced. 

All I do know is that the lack of reporting is blamed on the reduced number of staff and that the PJ were only in attendance for the first hour of the Board meeting (covering the elections). The reason for the low attendance was because the Pharmaceutical Care Awards were being held later that  day. I was a little surprised that the Awards had even been arranged for the same day as the inaugural meeting of the new Board, especially as the RPS is a joint sponsor and I began to wonder why no one seemed to keep a diary! 

Later that day I became even more annoyed because I attended the awards and realised that there were six members of Pharmaceutical Press staff present at a time when we had been told how stretched they all were.....

But this is an aside really because the $64,000 question is to ask whether RPS Members actually want to know what the Boards are doing on their behalf or whether they want a more clinical focus. I think the cover story in the post election edition was itchy skin - at a time when many Board Members were itching to see their success reported.

I am sure that in time this will be resolved but it will be useful to have a heads up about what RPS members think of the PJ. I can recall the days when the front cover was all print and the most interesting read was the quarterly toxicology report! It has improved immensely over the 30 plus years I have been on the register but, in its current state, is it fit for purpose?

Pharmacy politicians - an unlikely coalition

Those who know me from politics know that I am not the biggest fan of the coalition government and, a string of closely fought elections has left me with a slightly jaundiced view of Tories although there were a few Tory parliamentarians who I regard as friends. 

So, I wondered how I would get on with newly elected board member Sibby Buckle who has stood as a parliamentary candidate for the Conservatives at Westminster and at European level. At first glance she looked quite daunting - one of those amazing women who looks like she gets out of bed with every hair immaculately in place but closer acquaintance, helped by a glass of wine or two revealed that we think alike on a lot of issues and she also has a great sense of humour and a fierce streak of independence.

Most importantly, we were of like mind over the first paper that was presented to the EPB - which dealt with the subject of pharmacy presence at party conference. The broad analysis of strategy was OK - in short the RPS now joins in with an organisation called the Health Hotel. This means that we can organise a joint fringe with other Health Hotel partners, use the HH area as a base for lobbying and attend a number of HH events such as a round table event and a late evening reception which is one of the best health networking events around. 

Unfortunately last year the RPS did not take advantage of the opportunity to organise a Fringe meeting and was conspicuous by its absence at the reception. I do not know whether any lobbying took place but I do know that NPA and PSNC were there and I introduced pharmacists to our health Minister, Paul Burstow, and to a number of MPs and Peers who had health-related interests. I compared notes with Sibby only to discover that this level of inactivity also applied to the Conservative Party Conference. 

We were also unimpressed that the recommendation in the paper was to take a second member of staff to conference because we couldn't think what they were going to do. We had both independently arrived at the conclusion that as we had an EPB board member going to two of the conferences anyway that it made sense to use us and save the Society a bit of money. We were fairly sure that there must be a pharmacist somewhere who is planning to attend the Labour Party conference. 

Another board member ventured the opinion that other EPB members would also have the necessary skills to attend but I think he missed the basic point about cost saving because we were attending anyway. 

Leading on from this Sibby had an excellent idea about forming a group of pharmacists who had an interest in politics and public affairs so that we could make the most of their skills. The next step is to make sure that the idea bears fruit and is not quietly buried. 

It was interesting to me that the first subject on the agenda involved politics but what interested me more was the very different attitude that Sibby and I brought to the table. We were able to challenge the status quo because we know the system inside out and we felt justified in pushing for more to be done. I am really looking forward to doing more work with her in the future. 

Monday, 2 July 2012

The English Pharmacy Board elections

My first EPB meeting started with the election of Chair. 

There were two candidates and we all received their election statements just over a week before the election. 

I was told by a third party that I ought to support candidate A. I suggested to said third party that A could ring me because I had no idea what made A tick and did not feel inclined to blindly follow someone I knew next to nothing about. 

In the mean time B had called me and outlined a very inclusive vision for the EPB. 

I waited and waited and there was no contact from A. 
A third party told me that I should pick up the phone and speak to A. But - hang on a minute. A wants my vote so why  am I the one that should be proactive? Trouble is, I have been used to a world where people constantly asked me for their support - I never had to go touting it around. And, if someone wants to chair the English Pharmacy Board, isn't that a Leadership role? Doesn't leadership involve being proactive? I can recall when John Bercow wanted to become Speaker of the House - he picked up the phone and rang many people himself and that clinched it for me. 

During the induction day A did not speak to me and B did. 

By now you will have guessed that I voted for B. B lost. It was clear that a lot of mutual backscratching had been organised. The outcome of the vote for Vice Chair and the votes for the Assembly were fairly predictable (although the Assembly threw up one surprise). 

Welcome to the world of the EPB. 

I won't pretend that I wasn't disappointed not to be elected to the Assembly but that feeling was short lived because I quickly realised that most of the issues I am interested in are dealt with by the EPB, and not the Assembly,  and I will now be able to spend the next year really getting to know the organisation and getting involved in the issues which interest me. The new board is larger, with some feisty members and some independent thinking so I predict that there will not be any particular faction that rules the roost. 

In the mean time I wish the new Chair and Vice Chair well for what promised to be a busy and stimulating year. 

A tour of the building - selling the family silver

At the end of the induction day we were offered a tour of the building. This would not usually even be worthy of passing comment. 

We were taken up to the top floor and shown the amazing view. Our guide mentioned in passing that "we always point this out to people who are interested in buying". 

I queried this. I had read the assembly papers. Surely no decision had been taken? 

We were then informed that RPS were in the process of collecting bids. 

Again we queried the fact that no final decision had been taken. 

We were getting nowhere fast but it was apparent to all of us that the somewhat coy Assembly minutes (and also the assurances of Assembly members) bore no resemblance to the activities being undertaken by RPS staff. Make no mistake, there seems to be a real head of steam behind the move to sell the building and it was hard to establish whether any other options were being actively pursued at all. 

So, the question really is to ask whether members think this is worth fighting over. It smacks of selling the family silver and there is no hint of what it will be replaced by. My gut feeling is that this does not seem right - what do others think?

Induction Day at RPS

I am not the sort of person who arrives early for anything and I don't like getting up early so it was almost inevitable that I was almost late for the start of the induction day but happily I had my pass photo taken and even managed to grab a cup of coffee and hug a few people before plonking myself down in the only available place to await death by powerpoint. 

Things got off to a slow start and I thought I might scream if I heard the word organogram one more time but it was interesting to observe some of my fellow board members. Some were strangers to me, a couple I had worked with and known for some time and others I had met at All Party Pharmacy Group Meetings or at various receptions or dinners. When you are an MP most people are usually nice to you - when you are on equal terms with people they are more likely to reveal their true colours and I had to come to some decisions about who I wanted to vote for the next day.

What struck me most powerfully was that there are relatively few people trying to do an awful lot of work and most of it is not readily visible to the membership. 

I jotted down a few notes on my iPad - mainly about things which gave me food for thought. 

1. "Board members have a governance duty which can conflict with being an elected member"

I was a little concerned about this as  having spent ten years representing people it came as a shock to be told that that was not why I was really there!  I will have to see how this all pans out in practice because as far as I can see, I stood as a community pharmacist and I very much see my role as tackling the many concerns and issues faced by my colleagues. Hopefully there won't be a conflict in practice but as far as I am concerned I want to be a voice of the members to the board and use that position to advance the standing of pharmacy generally. Watch this space. 

2. "We have moved from support to each individual member to thinking about how to support the profession at large". I can see why this decision was taken but if we veer too far from the situation of supporting individuals then this could have an adverse impact on membership. 

3.  We have 34 partner organisations - but I have yet to find out who they are

4. "Buildings and assets are not member owned they are corporately owned" - some huge implications here which will be dealt with in a separate post. 

5. Consultations - one member of staff deals with all of these  and there are a number of ways of dealing with them depending on the size and perceived importance of the consultation. What was clear was that my days reading policy documents have clearly not come to an end.  There will eventually be a page for policy on the website (I hate words like eventually). 

6. The LPFs. Some of these have been slow to get off the ground and this is hardly surprising since (purely my opinion here) they cover too large a geographical area and are serviced by relatively junior staff who are hard pushed to do all that is necessary. Ash Soni pointed out how important it was that LPFs start performing and that there was a need to think about changing boundaries so that they could align with the emerging LPNs. 

7. Catherine Duggan was particularly impressive and is working hard on a lot of initiatives. I was interested to learn, when chatting to her, that her motivation was the lack of proactivity she had witnessed when she had been a Member of the old RPSGB. 

8. "Brand Ambassadors" - we had a session on social media and were told that even when tweeting in a private capacity our comments could have an impact on the brand. I did rather get the impression that they were warning us off blogs and twitter but I really like twitter and I promised that I would write a blog. The trouble is that my style can border on the irreverent and I do usually see the funny side of things. I am human and I also think that blogs are more interesting if they contain some human detail rather than a cold relaying of fact.  Hmmmmmm. 
Maybe I have to set some ground rules for this blog. I assume it is ok to report what people said in meetings but when it comes to the more social aspects should that be reported? I know I can only report what we discussed in open business but what about side business and conversations with staff? I can see that I am going to have to tread my way carefully here but I have always made it my business to be open and shine a light on what goes on behind the scenes. I see no reason to change. 

Voting - update

For those of you who care a jot about why the person with the most votes to the English Pharmacy Board is only elected for two years and the person who came second is elected for three......

The rules state that the person in the community sector with the highest number of votes will  take the community pharmacy employee place - unless that person is a locum who will take the place reserved for a community pharmacy locum. Both of these places were allocated to year 2. Once these two places are filled the next place is allocated to the more generic community position which happens to give you a three year term this time around. 

So, in effect (leaving locums aside), the last English Pharmacy Board approved a system in which the highest placed community pharmacist would only be elected for two years and the next placed  would be elected for three. 

It really does tempt me to ask whether they actually understood what the system they approved.......