It has been five years since the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) ceased to be a regulator and took on the sole role of professional body. In that time, it has attempted to keep fees constant – but last month it announced its first fee rise would take place in 2016.
Although the rise appeared minimal – £6 a year for pharmacists – it nonetheless provoked a heated debate. The underlying question was whether it is worth paying money to the professional body. Three readers give their strong – and conflicting – views on the answer.
“It’s good value for money”
Cathy Cooke, head of medicines management, Allied Healthcare
The RPS has multiple benefits, believes Ms Cooke. In her medicines management role, she works with a number of other healthcare professionals – and they all recognise the RPS. She believes its role as the professional body gives pharmacy a certain standing.
Ms Cooke also sees the RPS faculty, its professional recognition programme, as a benefit. She spent 25 years working in community pharmacy and felt there was “no indication” of the experience she had built up or a “particular professional development path”. The faculty could fill this void. “There’s a potential for membership of the faculty to indicate competency across a range of skills,” she says.
In fact, Ms Cooke knows of some hospitals specifying faculty accreditation as a desired attribute when recruiting. She believes it could be a useful tool for pharmacists looking for a job. “If you want to move to other sectors – GP practices, hospitals – that’s a good way of demonstrating your capabilities.”
All in all, she believes the fees are worth paying. “It’s good value for money,” she says. “If you compare it [the RPS] to other professional bodies, I think you get quite a lot.”
“The RPS needs a whole change in approach”
Hassan Khan, owner, Cullimore Chemist, London
Mr Khan has not renewed his RPS membership this year – and he doesn’t regret his decision. He feels the professional body has “stood back” on important issues facing the pharmacy sector. The oversupply of pharmacists is one issue he believes the RPS should have been firmer on. “[There are] too many pharmacy schools and too many people are coming through with inadequate grades and lacking the knowledge they should have,” he says.
This trend has devalued the profession to such an extent that some pharmacists are paid just £15 an hour, he says. “We’re not a profession anymore. We’re just glorified shopkeepers,” Mr Khan argues. He blames the RPS for not doing more to preserve professional status and believes the society needs a “whole new change in approach”.
For this reason, he is not surprised that he doesn't know anyone from his year at university who has retained their membership. He is unsure of what it offers pharmacists. “My pre-reg said, ‘What does the RPS offer you?’,” he says. “I said, ‘I don’t know’.”
“I support the RPS but struggle to identify tangible benefits”
Chris Howland-Harris, owner, Ashgrove Pharmacy, Bristol
A professional body is vital to pharmacy, Mr Howland-Harris says. On this premise, he is a strong supporter of the RPS. But he struggles to name tangible benefits he receives from his membership. “The RPS isn’t the only support body. It may be the professional body, but the National Pharmacy Association provides a lot of what the RPS provides – it has an information department, it raises awareness of pharmacy and does training,” he explains.
In fact, he doesn’t really “feel the need for the RPS” as a pharmacy owner. But he likes to thinks he is a “bit more than that”: in other words, a professional. “Where do you get your self-confidence and self-worth from?” he asks. “Part of that [comes from] membership of a professional body.”
Mr Howland-Harris says is important to have a body that can “stand apart from commercial interests” and represent the pharmacy profession. “If we didn’t have the RPS, we would be creating one,” he stresses. “We would expect to have a professional body because there is [one] for most, if not all, other allied healthcare professions.”