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RPS president: I'll be 'extremely hands on' with legislation

C+D caught up with the new Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) president, Martin Astbury, last week (July 27) to discuss what challenges and opportunities lie ahead for him, and the sector.

How did it feel to be made president of the RPS?

I still recall the tears in my eyes the very first time I was elected as president of the RPS (2010-2014), and I take it no less lightly on this occasion, either.

I suppose I’ve become old hat, [which] does allow you to relax a little bit more because you know what you’re letting yourself in for. But [I feel] enormous pride in being able to serve [as president] again. I do very much see it as a service to the membership – delivering for pharmacists who ultimately deliver for the public.

What challenges do you anticipate in the role?

The president’s main role in the RPS is to be a facilitator. So I have to ensure that the staff are delivering. But then I also have a particular key role in ensuring that the members’ representatives – the people on the national boards – are able to do their roles and represent their members effectively.

Again, with the experience from having had this role before, I understand how to do that, but I also had good conversations with [previous president Ash Soni] and have seen how he’s approached and developed the role. I am confident that all those people can and will continue to deliver in those ways.

What are the biggest challenges facing the sector?

Externally, we’ve got enormous challenges. [It was an] absolute disaster that at a time when community pharmacy was being recognised by more people than ever –  the public, other royal colleges and professions – as the growing profession that can deliver, we were then kicked in the teeth [with the funding] cuts in England. They are still looming and we don’t know what the outcome of that’s going to be.

I was delighted to be a member of an [RPS] English board that took such a strong position on [the cuts]. This allowed the board chair [Sandra Gidley] and the president [Mr Soni] to work with the other organisations to coordinate a strong response. I’d have been very disappointed if a different decision had been made; it would have been out [of touch] with what the membership and people working within the community pharmacy sector felt. 

What’s the biggest thing you’d like to achieve as RPS president?

I will be extremely hands on [with] the legislative changes [to do with decriminalising dispensing errors]. The work that’s happening within the rebalancing board is something that the [RPS] president has tended to lead on, on behalf of all three national boards. So I’ll be looking to continue that.

[Decriminalisation] has been going on for a long time, but we really do feel that the finishing line is almost there now. We want to see that [come to] fruition regardless of any legislative problems Brexit could bring.

Is there anything else you would like to tell C+D readers?

Once it was evident that Ash [Soni] was not going to be able to stand [for president] again, I had a long discussion with him, and we looked at who we felt would be best-placed to take on the role.

He was extremely supportive and actively encouraged me to go forward and take on this role. Had I not had that support, it would have made it a [much] more difficult decision, and I’m not sure I definitely would have taken the role.

Any support from your peers is important, but coming from someone who is as respected…as he is…it meant an enormous amount to me. It certainly helped in my decision to stand again.

Listen to C+D's recent podcast interview with former RPS president Ash Soni here: 

What would you like Mr Astbury to achieve as RPS president?

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